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Response to Alex Berezow’s Backyard Chicken Article on the American Council on Science and Health

alex berezow backyard chickens hypocrite

Just finished writing to Alex Berezow of the American Council on Science and Health. He’s the guy that wrote this article: https://www.acsh.org/…/no-brian-williams-your-job-isnt-scar…
also wrote this article titled “Backyard Chickens Are Fun, Until The Vomiting And Diarrhea Begin
https://www.acsh.org/…/backyard-chickens-are-fun-until-vomi…

For an organization with a mission to prevent alarmist garbage news, this doesn’t seem well aligned. And the guy seems like an asshole, which is fine when you’re not trying to pass yourself off as a morally superior unbiased journalist. Below is my response, which I had to put on the Brian Williams fearmongering article since the other one doesn’t allow comments now:

_____

Clearly the fear industry is profitable. It’s really a shame that journalists try to scare their readers, and editorialize and let emotion rule their articles just to get clicks and shares. Like this prime example: https://www.acsh.org/…/backyard-chickens-are-fun-until-vomi…

Backyard chickens = vomit & diarrhea. Right.

Because, like you said:

‘As part of the “natural is better” movement, many Americans — particularly those who live in the city and know absolutely nothing about agriculture — have decided that playing farmer is a fun pastime. It certainly can be a fun hobby… that is, until the vomiting and diarrhea begin.’

We’re all playing at being farmers. We know nothing about agriculture. We should absolutely leave it to professionals, because large farm operations never have outbreaks of salmonella that get back to the general population through purchases of eggs, chicken, alfalfa sprouts, etc. We’re pretty dumb people who really love spraying waste from both ends because we have an idyllic view of chickens, right?

‘This entire story illustrates the fallacy of the “back to nature” or “farm-to-table” movement. Just because you know where your food comes from doesn’t mean it’s any healthier. As it turns out, there’s a really good reason why we have “processed food”: It makes the food safer for us to consume.’

Again, I’m sure you have context for this. Eggs produced by pastured hens aren’t any more nutritious, right? (http://news.psu.edu/…/research-shows-eggs-pastured-chickens…) Maybe you have data on the percentage of the total chicken keeping population these ‘ambitious urban cowboys’ account for- I mean, that would be the responsible thing to consider when writing an article talking about backyard chicken keepers like they’re all getting sick from their hens.

I almost forgot to mention: you’re harping on ‘farm to table’ and people wanting ‘natural’ food because it’s healthier. And that’s totally debatable in so many cases, I agree. But that’s NOT what drives most people to have a backyard flock. There’s a human element there that makes us actually give a shit about animal welfare, which is something that’s pretty appallingly done in a factory farm setting. I do it because I want kids in the area to know what chickens are, and how they produce eggs (nevermind the adults who don’t know how they produce eggs). And I do it to improve soil health and water retention in my backyard. Is all of that just as easy to mock?

I don’t know why you even talked about eggs in the article honestly. The CDC numbers you reported are from LIVE POULTRY interaction, and I quote:

‘The CDC reports that 10 separate Salmonella outbreaks, affecting 48 states and DC, has sickened 790 people and hospitalized at least 174. The outbreaks have been linked to hatcheries where people handled ducklings and chicks.’

Ref July 2017 https://www.cdc.gov/salmonella/live-poultry-06-17/index.html

You’re not wrong when you say a hen could be “plopping out little time bombs”. You’re not wrong, but you’re an asshole. And if you weren’t headlining an organization dedicated to sound journalism and science, I’d be a lot more understanding. I’d be even more understanding if you said that in the context of a CDC report concerning salmonella from backyard chicken EGGS, rather than tossing it into your article like the eggs are part of the CDC outbreak report.

And one more quote from you I’d like to address: “And be on the lookout for predators. If you live in the wrong part of town, a hawk just might swoop in for a snack. Your precious little chickens might last a morning, but by afternoon, the survivors would be asking not to be free-range anymore.”

This non sequitur really shows you’re out of your element Alex. The chickens would TOTALLY be asking to free-range again. They’re not that smart, and they really like to roam.

Here’s a screenshot of the article in case it ever disappears:

alex-berezow-hypocrite
That’s not alarmist or click-bait at all, right? Reference: https://www.acsh.org/news/2017/07/27/backyard-chickens-are-fun-until-vomiting-and-diarrhea-begin-11623
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CDC Backyard Chickens & Salmonella ‘Outbreaks’: A Backyard Chicken Keeper Responds

BLOG-cdc-backyard-chickens-salmonella

It’s that time of year again: the yearly outbreak report on human Salmonella cases linked to live poultry.  Get ready to clutch your pearls and hide your kids!

2017 CDC Salmonella Outbreak Linked to Backyard Chickens: Multistate Outbreaks of Human Salmonella Infections Linked to Live Poultry in Backyard Flocks, 2017

When I started writing this the June 1, 2017 were the only numbers presented; as of publication, they’ve updated the numbers on July 13, 2017.

Here are the stats, straight from the CDC page:

10
Outbreaks
790
Cases
48
States
174
Hospitalizations
  • Since the last update on June 1, 2017, 418 more ill people have been reported. The most recent illness began on June 20, 2017.
  • CDC, multiple states, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS) are investigating 10 separate multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections in people who had contact with live poultry in backyard flocks.
    • These outbreaks are caused by several DNA fingerprints of different Salmonella bacteria: Salmonella Braenderup, Salmonella Enteritidis, Salmonella Hadar, Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i-, Salmonella Indiana, Salmonella Infantis, Salmonella Litchfield, Salmonella Mbandaka, Salmonella Muenchen, Salmonella Typhimurium.
  • The outbreak strains of Salmonella have infected a reported 790 people in 48 states and the District of Columbia.
    • Illnesses started on dates ranging from January 4, 2017 to June 20, 2017.
    • Of 580 people with available information, 174 ill people have been hospitalized. No deaths have been reported.
  • Epidemiologic, traceback, and laboratory findings link the 10 outbreaks to contact with live poultry, such as chicks and ducklings, from multiple hatcheries.
    • In interviews, 409 (74%) of 553 ill people reported contact with live poultry in the week before illness started.

Sounds pretty scary, right?  10 outbreaks?! 790 cases?  No wonder news outlets hurried to write cutting-edge stories like:

Washington Post: Backyard chickens blamed for salmonella outbreaks. Do not snuggle with them, CDC says. – June 5 2017

CNN: Getting too friendly with fowl blamed in salmonella outbreaks –  June 2 2017

IndyStar: Don’t kiss the chickens. Here’s why. – June 14 2017

CBS News: Keeping backyard chickens comes with a human health risk, CDC warns  – June 2 2017

Fox News: Backyard chickens are getting people sick again – June 6 2017

Forbes: CDC Warns: Don’t Get Too Close To Your Chickens, Ducks And Geese – June 3 2017

Time: Why You Really Shouldn’t Hug Chickens – June 7 2017

Newsweek: YOUR PET CHICKEN IS MAKING PEOPLE SICK, CDC SAYS – June 6 2017

So what does this all mean?  Just how much damage are these backyard chickens doing?  Why is everyone kissing chickens?  What’s WRONG with these chicken people??

Let’s put it into context.

What Does the CDC Consider an ‘Outbreak’?

From the Salmonella Outbreak page:

When two or more people get the same illness from the same contaminated food or drink, the event is called a foodborne disease outbreak. Similarly, when two or more people get the same illness from contact with the same animal or animal environment, the event is called a zoonotic outbreak.

Simple definition of an ‘outbreak’: any time 2+ people get sick with the same illness anywhere in the US.  I should’ve been going into my last corporate job in a biohazard suit every day, ‘cuz it was basically an ongoing outbreak of whatever sickness people picked up from their kids/spouse/etc.

So, what does the “10 outbreaks’ refer to at the CDC?  10 different strains of Salmonella. Two or more people got infected per strain, making it an outbreak.

The Backyard Chicken Salmonella Outbreak Numbers, Put Into Context

The CDC website is not fun to navigate, nor are their tables of data easy to just pull and analyze.  Some of the tables don’t even have the states in alphabetical order. Still, it was worth it to satisfy my curiosity and pull the data all into one table. I only pulled data up through 2013, because 2012 was the first year they seem to have Salmonella linked to live poultry and they broke down the reporting into each Salmonella strain, which would have taken me a little too long to merge into this table. Embedded table is scroll-able, or use the link below it to navigate to the Google Sheet showing the full table.

Full size data table is on Google docs, here.

When the numbers stand on their own, it’s easy to get nervous. For instance, I live in Michigan, and was shocked to see 55 cases of Salmonella attributed to interaction with live poultry in 2016.  But what percentage of the population is that?  How much of an issue are we facing?

Of course, nobody knows how many people keep backyard chickens (even in cities with backyard chicken municipal code & licensing, there are people who keep them without reporting them). So, for giggles, I did some lazy guesswork, just to see what sort of percentages we might be looking at.

Percentage of Chicken Keeping Population in Michigan Who Became Sick With Salmonella in 2017

Let’s make some assumptions:

1.) Let’s assume that all those reported sick from live poultry are actually poultry keepers, not just people who touched or were otherwise around chickens in the 2 weeks prior to getting sick.

backyard-chicken-sales-in-michigan
4695 members in the Facebook group “Chickens For Sale in Michigan”

2.) Let’s assume that the number of people who keep chickens in Michigan corresponds to the number of members in the Chickens for Sale in Michigan Facebook group, which has 4695 members today.

2017 MI Salmonella Cases # Chicken Keepers in MI
18 4695

18 is what % of 4,695?  .38%

Of course, these are pretty big assumptions, and they’re assuming on the low side.  The CDC likes to point out that many people who become infected with Salmonella will never report it, because they might just get a stomach ache & diarrhea and then get over it. Likewise, I think there are far more than 4695 people in Michigan keeping chickens; as support of my theory, I look at forums like BackyardChickens.com and their Michigan Backyard Chicken Keepers thread, which is currently 3964 pages long with a total of 39,635 messages.

Regardless, maybe this 4695 is a big part of our Michigan population, and we need to be worried about those 4695 people getting sick, crippling our economy and overrunning hospitals.  How big of a threat potential is there?? Let’s look at 2016 numbers, since I can pull Michigan census data for 2016.

2016 MI Cases # Chicken Keepers in MI 2016 Pop. of MI
55 4695 9,928,300

4,695 is what % of 9,928,300? .047%

In 2016, our % of sick is actually much higher than where we are right now in 2017. However, chicken keepers, as a whole, are a TINY percentage of the overall population of Michigan, and then only a TINY percentage of them have contracted Salmonella (again, making big assumptions in all cases).

How Are People Getting Sick With Salmonella From Backyard Chickens?

It’s a good question, since it’s so easy to NOT get sick if you practice basic hygiene and use common sense.  Basically, the rule is:

Don’t put stuff in your mouth that could be unclean.

It’s a pretty easy concept.  Your mom likely drilled it into your head when you were a kid.  “Wash your hands” she’d say. “Don’t stick that in your mouth!” She’d scream. Things like that.

Basically, with chickens, you have to assume they’ve gotten in or around poo.  I assume the same thing with my dog and cat, honestly, and they get the privilege of sleeping on furniture.  If you wash your hands before sticking them in your mouth, and if you don’t go around licking surfaces in your house/yard, you should be fine.

So how are people getting Salmonella from backyard chickens?  I have some theories.  Welcome to my…

Official Guide to Getting Salmonella from Backyard Chickens

  1. Lick everything.  Always.
  2. Clean the coop with your spoon, while you’re eating breakfast.
  3. Let your chicken nest in your salad bowl.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-BACKYARD-CHICKENS-CDC
  4. Share toothbrushes with your chickens, even though they don’t have teeth.
  5. Suck eggs fresh from the chicken.CDC-EXPLAINS-HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-BACKYARD-CHICKENS
  6. Let your chickens soak their feet in your tea after a long day of pecking and scratchin’.
  7. Touch chickens then lick your hands.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-TOUCHING-CHICKENS
  8. Drink chicken-stomped wine.
  9. Tongue bathe your chickens.HOW-TO-GET-SALMONELLA-FROM-BACKYARD-CHICKENS-CDC-2017
  10. Keep your chickens toenails short by chewing them.

Important note on ‘Kissing Chickens Causes Salmonella’

All of the above are ludicrous examples, just like insinuating that backyard chicken keepers are all getting sick from getting too ‘intimate’ with their flock, kissing and snuggling them.  There are currently 568,000 results for the search “kissing chickens” on Google- all because some remarks from the CDC on ‘kissing, hugging, and snuggling chickens’ blew up into “OMG THESE CHICKEN WEIRDOS ARE BASICALLY MAKING OUT WITH THEIR BIRDS” because that sort of headline gets clicks.  It’s dumb, and it paints backyard chickens & their keepers as unsavory, odd people- certainly not the sort of people you want living in YOUR town.

As an example of why this is such a disingenuous tagline for all the stories, here’s a snippet from the 2015 Outbreak Summary:

Twenty-eight (41%) of 69 ill people with complete questionnaires reported keeping baby poultry indoors, 39 (57%) of 69 reported holding or snuggling baby poultry, and 4 (6%) of 69 reported kissing baby poultry. These behaviors increase a person’s risk of a Salmonella infection.

Yes, you read that right: 4 people reported kissing baby poultry in 2015.  That was enough to generate high profile articles en masse published in 2015 on Google.  Ridiculous headlines get shared, and journalism suffers because of it. Articles like  “Salmonella Is Raging Because People Keep Kissing Chickens“.  The article leaves out the context of how many people are kissing their chickens, and instead focuses on it like it’s the main issue- and it’s not.  The issue is simple hygienic practices, like washing hands, removing shoes when coming into the house, and not putting your mouth on things that have touched poo (I know, I sound like a broken record). Oh, and teaching your KIDS to do that too.

 

How The CDC Reports Cases of Salmonella Makes It Easy For Naysayers to Fight Against the Legalization of Backyard Chickens

Here’s the crux of why I’m irritated by these yearly reports, and why I think it’s important to change the narrative on salmonella and backyard chickens:  as more people strive to work with their city to create ordinances to allow backyard chickens, the alarmist nature of these articles is easy fodder for those who staunchly want to deny backyard chickens in their city.  The way the data is being presented, not just by the CDC but also news organizations, is irresponsible and fearmongering.

Don’t think it has any impact, or that I’m being overly sensitive?  The city of Eastpointe passed a municipal code in 2017 concerning backyard chickens, allowing them with written permission from each neighbor BUT all children must be supervised while interacting with chickens.  Why?  Because they could get sick, because apparently city council believes that the citizens of Eastpointe aren’t capable of teaching their kids how to handle chickens without somehow getting chicken poo in their mouth.

During the city council sessions in Berkley MI, several people cited concerns over disease and salmonella running wild if backyard chickens were allowed.  Luckily rational thought triumphed, but the city is still doing a limited scope ‘pilot program’, just in case- despite the blatant non-issue backyard chickens have been in Ferndale, Royal Oak, Hazel Park, Madison Heights, & Lathrup Village (all surrounding communities).

Every year, I wait for the numbers from the CDC to come out around early June.  Every year, I get emails and notes to the Ferndale Backyard Chickens Facebook page, asking about the validity of the articles. And every year I say the same thing:  no, I’m not worried about Salmonella.  Don’t put poo in your mouth, wash your hands.

When I approached Ferndale back in 2008, the CDC wasn’t pushing press releases out about Salmonella and backyard chickens.  I guess the argument can be made that it wasn’t as much of an issue, since fewer people had or were interested in urban chicken keeping.  The tides of public opinion have shifted a good deal, but not so much that I’d say your average city dweller thinks backyard chickens are acceptable- and with fearmongering, click-baity articles coming out every year like clockwork, I wonder how public opinion will shift back toward disallowing urban chicken keeping.  That’s why I think it’s so crucial to keep this in perspective:  only a fraction of a percent of people are getting sick every year, and that shouldn’t be used as ammunition to keep people from being allowed to have chickens.

We, as chicken keepers, NEED to make sure the narrative isn’t one-sided. Share this article with family and friends any time they tag you on another ‘kissing chickens’ outbreak article.  Make sure they know that Salmonella isn’t transferred via air, and that basic hygiene keeps people safe.  Most of all, let them know they’re safe- this isn’t something your average chicken keeper has to fear, and it isn’t something non chicken keepers need to be concerned about.

 

The Best Organic Chicken Feed Choices for Your Backyard Flock

My pets eat so much better than I do.  As I’m writing this, my lunch consists of a couple spoonfuls of peanut butter and some string cheese. Don’t judge.

If you’re raising egg layers like I am and you really care about feeding them organically, I highly recommend the following brands:

scratch-and-peck-organic-chicken-feed
Great whole grain organic non-GMO chicken feed

Scratch and Peck Feeds Naturally Free Organic Layer is a Non-GMO Project Verified and Certified Organic product. They use a blend of organic whole grains grown in the Pacific Northwest. Kind of a long drive for those of us in the Midwest, and there are NO retailers in Michigan of course.

Their Layer Feeds are designed to be the healthiest and most natural product available for your laying hens. While all of their products are soy free, their Naturally Free poultry feed line is both soy free and corn free.

Naturally Free Organic Layer contains a high amount of calcium and slightly lower protein levels than their Naturally Free Organic Grower. The calcium is used by hens to produce strong eggshells and should only be fed to birds that are laying or will lay in the near future. The grains are left naturally whole in this feed rather than highly processed into pellets.

Best for small flocks, this will get pricey fast: Organic, Naturally Free Layer Chicken Feed, 25lbs, Non-GMO Project Verified

kalmbach-organic-chicken-feed
Organic chicken feed

Kalmbach Feeds Organic Layer Feed is exceptional. Headquartered in Ohio (I know most Michiganders don’t like that, but trust me you’ll get over it), their mission is to provide the best animal feed products, quality service and value for their customers and partners- and it shows. They have a strong commitment to transparency as well as quality of ingredients . Derived from the same formula as their crumbles, this organic feed is fortified with essential amino acids and top calcium levels to produce strong shells and wholesome, tasty eggs high in Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D. It contains a proprietary blend of prebiotics, probiotics and enzymes to support digestive and immune health.

Moreover, their feed contains their OmEgga® supplement, which is an extrusion of flax seed with high uptake of omega 3. It’s an easy way to make sure your hens are getting the benefits of flax in the diet (lower risk of ovarian cancer, for instance), while upping the nutrition of their eggs.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein (Min.) 17.00%
Lysine (Min.) 0.90%
Methionine (Min.) 0.40%
Crude Fat (Min.) 4.00%
Crude Fiber (Max.) 6.00%
Calcium (Ca) (Min.) 3.60%
Calcium (Ca) (Max.) 4.60%
Phosphorus (P) (Min.) 0.62%
Salt (NaCl) (Min.) 0.20%
Salt (NaCl) (Max.) 0.70%

If your feed store doesn’t carry it, get it here: Kalmbach Feeds Organic Layer Feed with Omegga, 40 lb

hiland-naturals-non-gmo-chicken-feed
Non-GMO chicken feed

Hiland Naturals of Sugarcreek Ohio makes a great non-GMO chicken feed, and though I’ve never found it in a feed store, you can get it online through Amazon (with shipping included in their price!) or through their website. Their 17% layer feed is a Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved product intended for layers 16 weeks and older. The slightly lower protein levels and high calcium levels maintain health and provide the birds with the ability to produce strong eggshells. The feed is a blend of non-GMO grains, all natural vitamin-mineral supplement designed specifically for poultry, and direct-fed microbials to keep your birds healthy while promoting production. Their layer feed is Non-GMO Project Verified, Animal Welfare Approved, tested free of herbicides, pesticides, and mycotoxins aflatoxin and deoxynivalenol, and preservative free.

sea-kelp-supplement-for-chickens
Sea kelp supplement for chickens

Supplementing your feed with sea kelp is a smart way ensure your chickens are getting all the right nutrients to keep them in their prime. By adding sea kelp to your flock’s diet, you have the opportunity to improve their nutrition, boost their immune response and promote egg laying. Some also agree that feeding the flock sea kelp also helps to extend the life of the flock .

Vitamins include A, B1, B6, (NIACIN), B9 (Folate), B12, D, E, and K.

Kelp has very high levels of vitamin K. Vitamin K is necessary for blood clotting and bone health. Kelp also contains high levels of folate, iron, iodine and calcium. The amount of calcium in one serving of sea kelp is ten times the amount found in a glass of milk. As you already know, laying hens require both calcium and Vitamin D to make strong eggshells.

Kelp contains moderate levels of vitamin A, E, C, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and pantothenic acid.

It also includes important trace minerals–phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese and selenium as well as lower levels of leucine, lysine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and histidine.

Potential Dietary Benefits

  • Stronger eggshells
  • Immune system support
  • Strong bones and maintenance of bone health
  • Bright deep golden color egg yolks
  • Improved plumage- gloss and decrease in feather breakage

Get a small bag here:  Treats for Chickens Certified Organic Cluck’n Sea Kelp, 2-Pound, Vitamin Supplement

Or the large bucket: Treats for Chickens Certified Organic Sea Kelp 6 lb bucket

Can You Have Chickens AND a Dog?

I wrote pretty in depth about my experience with Hurley, my german shepherd mix, and getting her used to the chickens. She was NOT a bird friendly dog- she was notorious for snatching birds out of the air after startling them by the backyard bird feeder. It was a slow, long process but she is now 100% trustworthy around the chickens, and is sometimes left outside with them during the day to protect them from predators like hawks and stray cats.

If you’ve had concerns about integrating chickens with a high prey drive dog, read my HuffPo article on the slow process of desensitizing them.

Can Dog Owners have Backyard Chickens?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/586eb005e4b0eb9e49bfb9c2

Chickens on Your Christmas Cards

I’m a sucker for a good Christmas card.  It’s such a rare treat, getting something in the mail from another human being your actually care about, and if there’s some level of personalization- swoon!  It makes me so happy.

That’s partly why over the past 2 years I’ve designed Christmas cards with illustrations of our family on them.  I’m not big into pictures (seriously, I’m so awkward), and besides it’d be next to impossible to get the chickens, the dog, the cat, and my husband and I all into a picture for one of those nice holiday cards that photogenic families send out.

Last year, in 2015, we lost Little Girl and our dog Shiner.  Shiner passed the day after Thanksgiving, so I quickly developed a sketch that included both he and Little Girl, but had a bit of symbolism to it to show that they were apart from us now.We also spent a ton of time painting and repairing our house in Pontiac as well, which I wanted to commemorate. I had a professional turn it into a vector, and quickly sent it to the printers. You can see the sketches that lead to the final product (below) on my Laura Mikulski Google+ profile

2015-final-white-background

I had a very specific idea for our 2016 holiday card this year.  We took it a little bit easier this year, and I wanted to card to have a cozy feel to it.  I decided the scene should show Ben and I in our Ferndale house, lounging on the sofa with Hurley and The B, with our chickens outside (Little Girl was, hopefully, the last house bird). I got a basic design together, asked an artist for help tracing and creating shadows, and with a little tweaking got this:

xmas-2016-with-snow

Of course then the printer (Vistaprint), botched the job AND sent a batch of cards to some unknown address.  Cards went out super late as a result, but I hope people still enjoyed them.

If you include your chickens on your holiday cards, I’d love to know! Show me a pic in the comments.

Chicken Coop Permit Renewal Time

Your chicken coop permit is valid until Dec 31st every year, so in early December the coty starts mailing out notices to renew.  It’s simple to fill out:

1.) Location of Building – place your address in this section

2.) Contractor/Applicant – fill out your contact info, like name, email, phone #

3.) Work to be Performed – write in “chicken coop renewal inspection”, or simply “chicken coop”

4.) Signature – don’t forget to sign it!

5.) Send it back in with your permit fee of $35, and the city will contact you to schedule a date/time for coop inspection.

I highlighted the areas to fill out in the pic above, if you have any questions contact the city clerks office, they’re happy to help!

Why Backyard Chicken Ordinances Matter

fb_img_1471143868977As a member of the Michigan Small Farm Council, I’m obligated to say that I firmly believe that everyone should have the right to farm. Our Michigan Right to Farm Act, the strongest pro-farm protection in the US, theoretically can provide protection to those with backyard chickens. However, in practicality, it doesn’t matter, despite state law superseding local ordinances. Imagine, for instance, that you receive a notice of violation from your local code enforcement officer stating you have 10 days to remove the chickens from your property before you begin accruing fines and have your animals removed.  Imagine trying to tell your code enforcement officer that you are protected under state law, and that they can’t take your chickens away.

The bottom line is they can, because they believe they can.  If you interfere with animal control officers removing your chickens, you’ll be facing much harsher charges.  You will receive more fines, more tickets.  Taking your fight to city hall, trying to explain your case, will be an arduous, slow moving process.

A recent example is Bob Perye of Berkley Michigan, a local business owner of the popular BBQ food truck The Rogue Estate. For years he kept a small flock of hens in his backyard, quietly selling eggs to appreciative neighbors and enjoying the benefits of backyard chickens. One call from a spiteful teenage neighbor was all it took for code enforcement to stop by, issue a citation, and force Bob to rehome his birds.  3 months later, after many emails and phone calls and consistent proactive effort, backyard chickens STILL aren’t on the agenda for discussion at Berkley City Council.  There’s no telling when it will be.  It’s not a high priority issue for those it doesn’t directly impact, and council members are often hesitant to ‘rock the boat’ and introduce an issue that people are often divided on. Meanwhile, Bob misses and worries about his birds, and sudden change like this is incredibly hard on chickens- in fact, one of his hens suddenly and mysteriously went lame, which could be an underlying issue that suddenly reared it’s head due to the stress the bird is under.

In an effort to help council understand the reasons they should allow backyard chickens, Bob compiled a ton of information on the benefits of hens and attempts to allay some of the fears people might have in his document, A Request To Allow Domestic Chickens As Pets In Berkley. His document is a perfect example of how to get chickens legalized in your city, and getting that document in front of council members has been a top priority.  He’ll need to continue to push to get the issue added to the agenda to find out if anyone has actually read it, and since so much time has elapsed it’s prudent to start trying to contact media to give attention to the issue.  With so many cities surrounding his allowing backyard chickens, it’s hard to imagine that Berkley won’t- they can, however, drag their feet for as long as they want.

This is why I’m such an advocate for working with your city on crafting a backyard chicken ordinance before you need it.  Nobody wants a long fight, and despite this seeming like a simple issue, it often gets brushed aside repeatedly before being addressed by city council. The wheels of change move slowly, the wheels of enforcement move quickly.

And, as always, be prepared to refute the frothing-at-the-mouth claims of those against backyard chickens.  For an example of some of what you’ll hear, listen to this Wilmington City Council meeting (linked directly to the portion that begins public comment).  The woman requesting the implementation of a backyard chicken ordinance was unable to be there due to illness- her detractors were out in force.  The fears of these neighbors made this balloon into a witch hunt, with them traveling to her previous home to take pictures of it, investigating her personally, “what about the children?!” claims that they’ll hug chickens and die from salmonella, etc.  This might be an extreme example, but I’ve heard all the same claims before, time and time again.

In short, if you want backyard chickens, be prepared to advocate and potentially fight for them.  In almost every case, you’ll need to, either by contending with opposition or the inertia of government.

Michigan Cities that Allow Keeping of Chickens (and those that don’t)

michigan-cities-that-allow-chickensTaken from Municode primarily. Always check with your city!  This list is not comprehensive, and there are many grey areas in municipal code. Contact me if your city should be added to the list!

Cities that ALLOW chickens & fowl:

Ada Township (restricted to zoned area only)

Addison Township (restricted to zoned areas, acreage limit)

Ann Arbor (specific chicken ordinance)

Auburn Hills (specific chicken ordinance)

Berkley  UPDATE:  code now allows them on a trial basis, but they have not yet updated the muni code website. Copies of the muni code can be seen here. Currently online: Sec. 22-5. – Keeping of domestic animals and fowl. No person shall harbor or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1981, § 5-4)

Centerline (allowed at schools, severe distance restriction)

Clawson (severe distance restriction)

Dearborn (permit required)

East Lansing (permit required) application available online

Farmington Hills (severe distance restriction)

Ferndale (specific chicken ordinance)

Grand Rapids (specific chicken ordinance)

Hazel Park (permit required)

Holly Township (class 3 animal, requires certain amount of land)

Holly (Village of) 3 chickens allowed

Lansing (City of Lansing)

Lathrup Village (specific chicken ordinance)

Madison Heights (permit required)

Northville (distance restriction)

Pontiac (acreage restriction)

Rochester Hills (acreage limit)

Royal Oak (implied to be allowed, ordinance governs keeping it clean)

 Southfield (distance limit, potential zoning issues)

Troy (permit required)

Warren (severe distance restriction)

Ypsilanti  (specific chicken ordinance)

Cities that DO NOT allow chickens & fowl:

Birmingham Sec. 18-8. – Keeping of domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals within the city except dogs cats, birds, or animals commonly classified as pets. No horse, cow, calf, swine, sheep, goat, chickens, geese or ducks shall be kept in any dwelling or part thereof. Nor shall any such animal be kept on the same lot or premises with a dwelling. This offense is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and/or $500.00 fine. (Code 1963, § 9.64; Ord. No. 2075, 11-28-11)

Bloomfield Hills Sec. 3-4. – Livestock prohibited. (b)”Livestock” means horses and other equine, cattle, sheep, swine, mules, burros, goats, llamas or other new world camelids, bison, poultry, rabbits and other animals used for human food and fiber or primarily for service rather than companionship to humans. Livestock does not include dogs and cats.(c) It shall be unlawful and a violation of this section for any person to possess or maintain livestock within the city. Owners or possessors of livestock shall be responsible for compliance with this section and subject to punishment for violations. For purposes of this section, “possess or maintain” means the act or ability of having or exerting control and influence over livestock, without regard to ownership and “owners or possessors” mean persons who have a right of property in livestock, who have livestock in their care of custody, or who knowingly permit livestock to remain on or about property occupied or controlled by them.

Dearborn Heights Sec. 6-66. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries or small animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets. (Code 1969, § 9.87)

Detroit Sec. 6-1-3. – Owning, harboring, keeping, maintaining, selling or transferring of farm or wild animals prohibited; exception for circuses, zoos, and other approved activities; separate violations for each animal; disposition of animals in violation of this section.(a) It shall be unlawful for a person to own, harbor, keep, or maintain, sell, or transfer any farm animal, or any wild animal, on their premises or at a public place within the City; provided, that farm animals or wild animals may be kept in circuses, zoos, or laboratories, subject to the approval of the City, where the care or custody is under the care of a trained and qualified animal attendant at all times, whose responsibility shall be to see that such animals are securely under restraint. (Ord. No. 04-04, § 1, 1-30-04)

Eastpointe Sec. 8-6. – Poultry and game birds. (a) No person shall raise or keep game cocks within the city. (b) Live poultry and game birds shall not be owned within the city limits.(Code 1973, § 9.66; Code 1989, § 610.06; Ord. No. 1015, § 610.06, 10-6-2009)

Farmington (UNCLEAR ; acreage limit, farms can keep, but has on the books an ordinance disallowing livestock) Sec. 20-303. – Livestock, exotic or vicious animals. The keeping of livestock is prohibited. The keeping of any exotic or vicious animal is prohibited.

Fraser  Sec. 32-33. – Animals. No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept on any lot, except that non-vicious dogs, cats or other household pets may be kept, provided they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purposes. (Ord. No. 279, § 3.02, 12-12-96)

Garden City 90.01  PETS; SALE OF ANIMALS; PROHIBITIONS.   (A)   No person shall keep or house any animals or fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries, or animals commonly classified as pets, customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets.    (B)   No person shall sell, or offer for sale, barter, or give away baby chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl as pets or novelties, whether or not dyed, colored, or otherwise artificially treated. This division shall not be construed to prohibit the display or sale of natural chicks or ducklings in proper brooder facilities by hatcheries or stores engaged in the business of selling the same to be raised for commercial purposes.(Ord. 11-006, passed 4-25-11)

Grosse Pointe Sec. 10-4. – Keeping domestic animals and fowl generally. Except as provided in this chapter, no person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1980, § 9.84)

Grosse Pointe Woods Sec. 6-3. – Livestock. (a) definitions. The following words, terms and phrases, when used in this section, shall have the meanings ascribed to them in this section, except where the context clearly indicates a different meaning: Livestock means horses, cows, calves, swine, sheep, goats, rabbits, chickens, geese, ducks, pigeons or other like or similar animals or fowl.(b) Harboring. It shall be unlawful for any person to keep livestock in the city with the exception of the Grosse Pointe Woods Hunt Club.(Code 1975, § 8-13-2; Code 1997, § 6-157)

Harper Woods Sec. 4-2. – Animals prohibited; exceptions. (a) It shall be unlawful for any person to keep any animal or fowl within five hundred (500) feet of any dwelling, street, alley or public place, except such animals as are commonly kept or housed as household pets; or permit any animal or any fowl owned by him or in his possession or control to run at large in any street, alley or public place, or upon the premises of another without express permission of the owner or occupant thereof.

Huntington Woods Sec. 4-4. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals other than domestic dogs, domestic cats, canaries or animals commonly classified as pets, which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets. The term “pet” or “household pet,” as used in this section, does not include exotic, wild, vicious or dangerous animals including, but not limited to, any of the following: domestic fowl, live monkeys, alligator, crocodile, raccoon, skunk, fox, bear, sea mammal, poisonous snake, constrictor snake longer than six feet in length, member of the feline species other than the domestic cat, member of the canine species other than the domestic dog, or any other animal which would require a standard of care and control greater than that required for customary household pets sold by commercial pet shops. This section shall not apply to any lawfully operated zoo. (Code 1988, § 9.38; Ord. No. 423, § 1, 5-19-1998)

Mount Clemens 15.042 – Sec. 4.2 ANIMALS. No animals, livestock or poultry of any kind shall be raised, bred or kept on any residentially zoned or used property, except that non-vicious dogs, cats or other household pets may be kept, provided they are not kept, bred or maintained for any commercial purposes. All animals shall be maintained in accordance with applicable City Ordinances.

New Baltimore Sec. 8-6. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Code 1981, § 9.65)

Oak Park Sec. 14-5. – Keeping of animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries or animals commonly classified as pets which are customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets, and excepting further, the temporary keeping of live poultry by any lawfully established live poultry market incidental to the normal course of business. (Code 1973, § 6-5)

Plymouth Sec. 14-4. – Domestic animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, fowl or animals commonly classified as pets. (Ord. No. 99-9, 6-21-99)

Rochester  Sec. 8-5. – Unlawful to keep certain animals and fowl. No person shall keep or house any animals or domestic fowl within the city except dogs, cats, birds, or animals commonly classified as household pets. (Ord. No. 1991-15, 8-12-1991; Code 1982, § 9.2-4)

Romeo Sec. 4-1. – Keeping within corporate limits. No person shall keep any horses, cattle, swine, sheep, ponies, goats, rabbits, poultry or other animals and fowl, except dogs and cats, within the corporate village limits. (Code 1993, § 35.251)

St. Clair Shores 35.059 – Farm animals prohibited. Sec. 19-9. No person shall own, keep, harbor, have custody or raise any farm animal except that one rabbit shall be permitted per residential premises. (chap. 19 eff. Nov. 22, 1988)

Taylor Sec. 14.09. – Keeping of animals. (a) Domestic animals, dogs, cats, birds and nonbreeding rabbits are limited to a total of three animals age four months or older per household. (b) Unless otherwise provided in this ordinance, no building or land in any district shall keep, raise, procreate or otherwise allow on the premises any wild or exotic animal, fowl, farm animal or livestock. (c) Excluded from this regulation are facilities owned and operated by the city and fully accredited academic institutions. All are subject to the health and sanitation provisions of the City of Taylor and shall not become a nuisance. (Ord. No. 09-434, § 14.09, 1-20-2009)

2016 TRACTOR SUPPLY CO. CHICK DAYS ARE HERE! FERNDALE MI

2016 tractor supply chick days michigan

If you’ve been thinking about having backyard chickens in Ferndale, MI, now is this perfect time to get started planning.

Every year in mid to late February, Tractor Supply hosts their “Chick Days”, where they receive shipments of chicks from hatcheries to their retail stores.  For your average backyard chicken keeper, these days are a boon:  it makes it so much easier to source chicks and visually inspect them before bringing them home, and allows you to take home a much smaller number than would normally be shipped to you direct from a hatchery (most hatcheries ship in bulk, ~25 chicks).  My preferred TSC is located in White Lake MI, about 45 minutes away from Ferndale MI.

According to their staff, this year the White Lake location will offer chicks from the last week of February through the next 3 months!!

Advantages to getting your chicks through TSC Chick Days:

  • Chicks can be visually inspected for leg issues, disease, and injuries prior to taking them home.
  • No “dead on arrival” chick issues that come from hatchery shipments; most hatcheries will only ship 30+ chicks at a time and often include a few extra to account for those that die en route.
  • Supplies for chick rearing are located at TSC- you can get everything you need to get started right there.
  • Smaller quantities:  TSC requires that you purchase a minimum of 6 chicks.  While this is problematic here in Ferndale where we can only have 3 chickens, it’s a far better option than sourcing through a mail-order hatchery that only ships a much larger volume (30+) of chicks per box.
  • Chicks are about $4 each.  $12 for your 3 hens in Ferndale (plus additional expenses to set up the coop, get feed, set up brooder box, etc)
  • New chicks are shipped to stores every Monday.  You can call to check what breeds they have every Monday around noon.  White Lake’s TSC just had their first shipment delivered today, 2/23/15.

Disadvantages of getting your chicks through TSC Chick Days:

  • You have to purchase a MINIMUM of 6 chicks. Unfortunately for those of us in Ferndale, that’s 3 more than we’re allowed.  Now is the time to reach out to other people to see if they’d like to go in on the purchase of chicks so you have a home lined up for the 3 additional birds. I see a surge in people selling started pullets/chicks around March on Michigan Poultry & Hatching Eggs Forum on Facebook & Metro Detroit Backyard Chickens Forum on Facebook.
  • Limited selection of breeds.  If you have your heart set on a certain breed of chicken, you may not be able to get it at TSC.  TSC in White Lake told us that they never know what breeds they will get, so the earliest they know of that weeks breeds is the Monday they receive them.

Points to keep in mind when getting started raising chicks in Ferndale:

  1. You might end up with a male chick/rooster, even if you select from sexed chicks labeled as female. There is almost always a chance that you’ll wind up with a male chick, and you won’t know until they get older and their behavior changes & they start crowing. You can limit your risk of winding up with a rooster in a few ways:
    • never buy “straight run” chicks, only “pullets”; pullets = sexed as female
    • consider selecting sex link chicks– these are chicks who have a distinct visual difference between
      The yellow-faced chick turned out to be the only male in the 6 chick group. It was the friendliest & biggest as a chick; as it turned into a juvenile, it suddenly became standoffish and bossier to the pullets.
      The yellow-faced chick turned out to be the only male in the 6 chick group. It was the friendliest & biggest as a chick; as it turned into a juvenile, it suddenly became standoffish and bossier to the pullets.

      males & females, making it foolproof to separate males & females.  Examples of high production common sex link birds are the black sex link (Black Star) & red sex link (Red Star).  This is the best option for those who absolutely can’t have a situation where they wind up with a rooster.

    • visually inspect slightly older chicks for characteristics of male chicks:  look for thicker legs, bigger body, and a much more friendly/bold personality
  2. You will need a place to raise the chicks.  TSC provides brooding kits, but they’re really only suitable for new chicks.  You’ll need something bigger before long. This chick brooder box idea board is a great place for inspiration.
  3. You will need a heat lamp, and will need to secure it.  Heat lamps are dangerous and can set wood shavings/sawdust on fire.  Be careful by securing the lamp to something stable or in such a way that it can’t fall into the litter the chicks are using in the brooder box.
  4. You will need chick food.  TSC has this, and it’s very cheap.  You can get medicated or non-medicated feed; as much as I’m a pseudo-hippy that lives an organic lifestyle, I prefer the medicated feed to avoid potential illnesses among the fragile chicks.  You can add in a probiotic to their feed when they are juveniles to ensure that their gut bacteria are all in order.
  5. You will need a coop for them to live in after they get bigger.  In Ferndale, that means you will need to create a permanent structure, and go through the process of getting the building approved.  Read more about the muni code & information on building a chicken coop in Ferndale MI. Chicks grow quickly, and will need a place to transition to- and you will look forward to getting them out of your house.
  6. Chicks create a lot of dust & droppings.  The droppings are stinky, and frequent.  You’ll need to clean the brooder box daily to keep the chicks from stomping around in their own waste.  This gets tiresome, but far worse is the dust that’s created.  This fine dust WILL coat everything in the same room as the brooder box.  It’s not toxic or stinky, but it often comes as a surprise after you’ve had the chicks for a few weeks and begin noticing that all your nice furniture has a fine, pervasive layer of dust on it.
  7. If chicks get ill, you will need to get them medication immediately.  That’s why I prefer having some on-hand, though it needs to be replaced regularly as it loses it’s effectiveness.
  8. Backyard chickens, much like dogs & cats, are a commitment of time, energy, and money.  You will need to make sure they are protected, fed, and healthy- and because they live outside in a world that wants to eat them, that presents its own set of unique challenges.  Plan on having to deal with attacks from local wildlife, and secure your coop like Fort Knox.  Make sure you have a veterinarian lined up for illnesses.  And always arrange for someone to look after them if you’re going away for an extended period of time.
  9. You will need to ensure that you don’t attract rats.  Rats are attracted to food & places to hide:  nothing more, nothing less.  If you build a coop that won’t allow rats to get inside as well as secure all sources of feed, you won’t have rat problems.  If you think you have rats, contact me immediately and I will help you figure out how to get rid of them.  Ferndale has a problem with rats in the downtown area due to improperly secured dumpsters, we as homeowners must not provide ‘greener fields’ for the rats to move to.
  10. People who keep backyard chickens fall in love with them, but not everyone feels the same.  By being a conscientious homeowner & chicken keeper, you’ll keep the peace among your neighbors.  Keep it clean, attractive, and in-compliance with the law.

 

Are you ready to join the ever increasing number of people who have backyard chickens?  Let us know in the comments!

Fight for Food Sovereignty in Ferrysburg MI

What entails community change from a ‘bedroom community’ to a ‘barnyard community’?  If you’re Roger Jonas, chairperson of the Ferrysburg Planning Commission,  the answer is as simple as 2 goats, 5 chickens, or 4 rabbits.

The issue emerged last year when Adam and Amanda Montambo asked the city to allow them to continue to keep pet goats. The Montambos said Amanda Montambo and several of their children are allergic to cow’s milk and therefore used goat’s milk.   Tim Scarpino, a former Ferrysburg councilman & spokesperson for the petition group Ferrysburg Residents for Responsible Land Use, said council should not consider changing the rules to benefit only one family. During his presentation, he very helpfully showed a photograph factory farm eggsof lactose-free products available for purchase at a local grocery store.  Because, you know, I’m sure the Montambo’s had absolutely NO idea that there were such things available.

At this same city council meeting, Tim pointed out: “You have an obligation to represent the entire city, which makes me wonder why you are giving greater consideration to the supposed needs of one family over those of another.” See, what city council had failed to realize, was that despite the needs of one family and the vocal support of other members of the community, they had an obligation to the needs of those who don’t support the right to food sovereignty and keeping a paltry number of animals on private property.  I’m not sure what those needs are as they pertain to this, because despite reading every article I could on this subject, the only ‘need’ I saw expressed was “We are a quiet town, and it’s the hope of many of us to keep it that way“.  Since this hints at a level of ignorance of how little noise goats, chickens, or rabbits make, I’m forced to assume that this is a bit of hyperbole.

Lest he be thought to be a goat-hating fear monger, Mr. Scarpino has stated: “I got nothing against goats”*.  In fact, as the chairperson for the Zoning Board of Appeals, Tim Scarpino is more upset by the fact that council passed this without the approval of the Ferrysburg Planning Commission.  In the comments section of one of the articles, a reader pointed out that a lot of the controversy around keeping farm animals revolves around the misconception that a few chickens/goats will be as fundamentally neighborhood changing as a large scale farm operation, to which Tim replied:

A “lot of the controversy” is because the Ferrysburg City Council ignored 50+ years of zoning norms to create a land use in the City that our founders never intended.  In fact, one of them (92 years old) called me to say this ordinance is a bad idea. The Ferrysburg City Council, in passing this ordinance, ignored The Planning Commission, the city planning consultant and the Master Land Use Plan (which does note even mention the desire for farm animals on residential lots). If they are willing do that, then what other land use ordinances might they enact?*

So, for now, let’s pretend that this is the only issue and the entire reason for Tim getting so heavily involved in speaking out against this ordinance.  Oh, and let’s also ignore the pearl-clutching weirdness of the last sentence.

"If they allow 2 goats, what's next?  Lions, tigers, & bears? OH MY!!"
“If they allow 2 goats, what’s next? Lions, tigers, & bears? OH MY!!”

At the start of this all, Ferrysburg ordinance did not allow farm animals on lots less than 10 acres. There were no parcels that large within city limits, thus no farm animals were allowed in the city (sounds pretty similar to our old Ferndale lot size issue).   When the Montambo family was discovered with goats, the city laudably took immediate action to investigate solutions and amend their ordinance appropriately.  Council voted 7-0 on Nov. 20 2014 to send the well-debated farm animal ordinance back to the planners with the intent of getting it changed to allow goats, chickens and rabbits on lots larger than 1 acre, with a one-year special use permit.  While this might seem reasonable to most people, it seems that the Ferrysburg Planning Commission was slightly less amenable to the idea.  To quote a December 2014 article from the Grand Haven Tribune:

“What if we don’t do it?” Planning Commissioner John Reifel asked. “What if we don’t want to draft it?”

“We have to take control of this or they will spot zone and things will happen in random order,” Regina Sjoberg, who serves both on Ferrysburg City Council and the Planning Commission, warned the planning commissioners at their meeting last week. “I guarantee you, if we don’t draft something, they will. We have to have some kind of control, and the best we can do is damage control.”

Planning Commission Chairman Roger Jonas said he grew up on a farm and believes farm animals don’t belong within city limits. *

Oh sure.  That sounds like a well-balanced response by an open minded Planning Commission serving out their duty as representatives of their community.  Not biased or petulant at all.

After lengthy discussion, Ferrysburg planning commissioners directed city planner David Jirousek of Grand Rapids-based LSL Planning to create a draft ordinance, modeled after similar-size cities in Michigan.  Mr. Jirousek drafted the ordinance amendment for keeping chickens in Grand Rapids, which stipulated that chickens may only be kept on a lot which is at least 3,800 square feet in size.  3,800 square feet = .089 acres, for those like myself who struggle with conversions.  You can keep 4 chickens on a property under 5,000 sq ft, and 6 chickens on property over 5,000 sq ft.  While I can’t find documentation on the reasons behind Mr. Jirousek’s stance, he returned an opinion that Ferrysburg should not allow farm animals.  The question is, why- particularly given that Mr. Jirousek seems to grasp the increasing desire of communities to embrace self-sufficiency and revive familiarity with homesteading.  I haven’t been able to find that answer, and will keep looking.

The city of Ferrysburg has their Ferrysburg 2007 Master Land Use Plan online, which, like Mr. Scarpino said, did not reference a desire for farm animals on residential lots.  Is this really shocking or noteworthy?  I’ve only seen reference to farm animals in Master Plan’s for heavily agricultural areas, of which Ferrysburg is not.  However, their first goal, as stated in the plan, is thus:

Goal #1 : Maintain Ferrysburg’s small town character

I can’t think of anything more true to small town character than neighbors seeing an earnest desire of their fellow man to be healthy, happy & involved in local food, and working toward a goal that allows them to achieve that within reasonable bounds.  When the Zoning Appeals Board upheld the determination that farm animals were not allowed on the Montambos 1.4 acre property, given that the  ordinance was excessively restrictive (10 acres mandatory for farm animals, which doesn’t exist anywhere in the city), I would expect a small town to look on in compassion and with an eye for reasonable change,  rather than a foot stamp and a “not in my backyard” attitude.  50+ years of zoning hasn’t taken into account the fundamental shift in our relationship with food sources and an increasing desire to become involved in a sustainable, conscious lifestyle.  If the planning commission takes a moment to consider the dramatic increase in farmers markets in Michigan and the rapid adoption of backyard chicken keeping in major cities, then maybe they wouldn’t treat this like a nuisance request or something that needs to be stopped dead in its tracks. Maybe, for a moment, they could look at this as neighbors, and truly reflect on why they believe that ‘farm animals’ don’t belong in the city, as Planning Commission Chairman Roger Jonas has said.

Personally, I applaud Mayor Dan Ruiter, who stated “I want to support the current trends aimed at a healthier lifestyle for ourselves and our families”. Now THAT is what I expect when I think of ‘small town character’.

The ordinance is officially on the Nov 3rd 2015 ballot for Ferrysburg.  I hope that those who support it are able to be heard and gain the right to keep their animals.  I’ll also be paying attention to neighboring Grand Haven, a substantially larger city, and their current interest in adopting a backyard chicken ordinance.  If adopted, I wonder if that will change Tim Scarpino’s position on keeping chickens on residential lots of at least 1 acre.

Final thoughts:

What exactly would adoption of the ordinance mean for the city of Ferrysburg?

“When we talk with people about the implications of this zoning change and they understand what this may mean for the city, they begin to have doubts about the wisdom and need for this ordinance,” he said.*

“The success of this petition campaign demands the City Council not double-down on the flawed process that brought us this ordinance by ignoring the hundreds of voices calling for its repeal,” he said. “A vote by council not to repeal will set in motion a very spirited campaign to explain the practical difficulties of the ordinance, call into question the humaneness of keeping animals penned up on small residential lots, and make clear who supports that.”*

The new law allows residents to keep two goats, five chickens or four rabbits, as long as they provide a shelter and fenced-in area on the larger-than-one-acre lot.  This was already being done, by the Montambos, for some time… with no ill effect to the city, and no complaints from neighbors.  Codifying it provides an avenue to regulate through inspections and ensure that the animals welfare is maintained.  So, what ARE the implications of this ordinance change- and please, let them be based in FACT, rather than unfounded belief, fear, or an adherence to ignorance.

FACT: the ordinance, as currently proposed, is well within GAAMPs guidelines for animal keeping.

FACT: keeping small domestic farm animals like chickens, goats, and rabbits in small quantities is not a “civic oddity” (see Tim Scarpino’s comment TUE, 05/05/2015 – 4:52PM), and is being adopted by cities of all sizes nationally at a rapid pace

FACT: most cities don’t see a massive uptick in keeping chickens/goats/rabbits after an ordinance is adopted.  There’s little likelihood that the naysayers who are surrounded by eligible property will ever actually live next to a chicken/goat/rabbit.

Frankly, I’m saddened that this debate has raged on this long and with such bile from the side of those against the ordinance.  I’m saddened that there’s no middle ground, and no compassion for families like the Montambos- who, I’m sure, are not alone in their desire to keep a small number of animals.  More so, I’m saddened that Tim Scarpino, who clearly has a grasp of media and has masterfully positioned himself as the vocal point person against the ordinance, has repeatedly stated that this is bad for the city without ANY factual evidence to back that up, and no experience with ‘farm animals’ to cite.

 

 

 

A Comprehensive Guide to Cleaning Your Chicken Coop

Cleanliness is probably the most important and least sexy part of keeping backyard chickens.

When we started out on this road, one of the biggest complaints I heard was that chickens are dirty and their dirtiness will attract rats.  This is partially true:  left untended, a chicken coop can easily attract rodents who see the access to their food, water, and bedding as especially alluring.  Additionally, chicken droppings are smelly en masse- an important distinction to make, given that the droppings are less odoriferous than dog poo when spread out (say, around your yard).  Ben and I set out with cleanliness in mind when designing the coop, and it worked astoundingly well.

Things we considered in design:

1.) We had to be able to easily pull everything out, including bedding, from a standing position.  Most of the coops for sale online were close to the ground, meaning we’d have to hunch over or kneel while pulling dirty bedding out- no fun.

2.) We had to be able to easily clean the run and under the elevated coop.  Again, this meant we needed to have something tall enough that I could rake under it, and the run had to be a reasonable height for us to walk around in.

P1040796
Finished easy-clean coop design: using large windows in the front meant it would be easy to pull everything out to clean, and the run is big enough to stand up straight in.

Chicken Coop Cleaning:

By nature, I’m not a clean freak.  Not even close.  However, I’m a worrier- and my worries lead me to looking into all the gnarly disease and parasites that a dirty coop can harbor.  If left uncleaned, chickens can develop respiratory issues very quickly in a coop with poor ventilation and sanitation; basically, they’re breathing the ammonia from the waste, which damages their lungs.  Then there’s feather mites, red mites, scaly leg mites, lice- the list goes on and on.  The Chicken Chick has a pretty good post on how to identify poultry mites & lice; fingers crossed, we still haven’t had an issue with them yet, which again I attribute to sanitation procedures.

I clean the coop & run at least twice a year, once in the spring and once in the late fall/early winter after the hens have molted (if they molt before real winter sets in!). It gives me a chance to inspect everything in the coop, looking for damage to the structure and protections we have in place.  On a daily basis, I rake out the coop, picking up the chicken’s waste and putting it into our composter.

The big clean starts by removing nesting boxes, feed & watering stations. Anything that can some out easily, does.

Steps:

  1. Remove anything that isn’t nailed down.
  2. Brush out coop, removing all bedding. Pay attention to corners and crevices to remove debris and dust.
  3. Use a 1-1 solution of vinegar and water to spray on dried/caked waste and any debris that is lingering.  Spray liberally and allow to soak in cases of stuck on dirt/waste.
  4. Followup with brushing out the coop again, removing remaining waste.  Repeat spraying if necessary.  When done, allow coop to dry.
  5. Use diatomaceous earth, puff it into crevices along the walls, on the roost, and into the nesting boxes.  If you’ve never read about how diatomaceous earth can kill bugs, check out this write up on it.
  6. Add  1/2 to 1 cup of diatomaceous earth to the coop run, spreading it along the surface.  Add additional sand/tube sand on top.
  7. Add your substrate back to the coop- we use sand in the summer and wood shavings in the winter.  The sand is wonderul to keep things clean, cool, and dry.  The wood shavings are a great insulator for winter time, and it smells pretty nice- we use the shavings that are available in pet stores for hamsters/guinea pigs. Never cedar!  We tend to use shavings for the nesting boxes year round.

Pretty simple, but it’s labor intensive, even with a sweet setup like our coop.  I probably spend at least 2 hours cleaning when I follow this routine.  However, knock on wood, we haven’t had any problems with mites, lice, fleas, or similar ilk in the years we’ve had chickens.

 

Little Girl has died.

Little Girl died yesterday.

The chickens woke us up with their squawking at around 5am, just as it was starting to get light out.  Ben and I both thought they were just yelling to be ‘let out’ of the run into the yard to begin their day.  Turns out, they were sounding the alarm that Little Girl was dead, laying on the ground underneath the coop.

I’ve been expecting it for years now.  There’s no way a hen can continue to lay yolkless eggs exclusively and NOT have something heinous going on inside her.  Little Girl only produced a handful of yolkless eggs early this year, end of winter/early spring.  She did the same thing the year before.  I knew that eventually that would catch up to her, and result in egg yolk peritonitis or some other malfunction killing her.

She had been slowing down a bit, but not much.  She was lounging a lot more with Bossy, who is entering the early stages of her molt right now.  My assumption was that Little Girl was also entering an early molt, though she’s usually a bit later than Bossy.  She did not stand around hunched, or ruffled, or anything else.  She was eating a little less, but again, that’s something I wrote off to the potential molt.  She was just as pretty as ever, with a bright red comb and wattles, clear eyes, and luxurious perfect feathers.

I’m amazed at how the other hens sounded the alarm over her death.  At one point after picking Little Girl up and examining her, I knelt down with her body and Bossy came up, cocking her head to each side, searching Little Girl’s face.  She very gently pecked an ant off her neck feathers, and checked her face again- it was like she was coming to terms with the reality of Little Girl being gone, like she was still in chickeny disbelief.  I placed Little Girl in the basement of the house, on the washer, to leave there until we were back home and able to dig a hole to bury her in.  Before we left, the chickens started squawking again- they saw Little Girl’s body laying on the washer through the basement window, and were sounding the alarm again.  I had to cover her with a sheet before leaving so the others would stop being spooked.

I’m crushed, but ok.  I honestly didn’t expect her to live this long after first realizing that something was incredibly off about her egg production.  I just miss her.

Little Girl memories:

  • I loved that I could hold her so easily, she never fought me and seemed to prefer being carried
  • She was absolutely vicious toward the other hens whenever they turned in for the night, preferring to sleep by herself on the highest roost
  • She’s the only hen who has gone broody, and I’ll never forget just how badly she fought to get back into the coop to lay on the nest- even flying up onto the top of the coop to see if she could get in that way
  • She was a pro at walking up and down the stairs from the basement to the kitchen, and would wait in the right spot for me to let her out the side door
  • I think she actually enjoyed being ‘cooped up’ with us during the winter while the other hens were outside
  • I won’t miss her psychotically ripping out the feathers of the other chickens
  • She didn’t know how to make the ‘egg song’ like the other hens- hers just came out as an ugly squawk/scream combo
  • Her normal vocalizations were rough and aggressive sounding around the other hens, and changed to sweet sounds around people
  • She seemed to enjoy having her wattles rubbed
  • She survived a hawk attack by wedging behind some bushes and screaming until we ran out and chased off the hawk

What Michigan Backyard Chicken Keepers Need to Know About the Bird Flu

michigan bird flu avian influenza prevention

Before anyone panics, let me start this out by saying this:

You’re not likely to get the bird flu.

That said, I felt the need to put together this post to remind fellow backyard chicken keepers & other fowl keepers (ducks, geese, etc) that it’s ALWAYS crucial to be mindful of the potential for disease to be spread in your flock.  Yesterday, Michigan saw it’s first case of bird flu, found in Canadian geese in Sterling Heights.  Although it’s being shown over and over again that backyard flocks are less prone to contracting bird flu, it’s wise to exercise caution.

From AOL:

“Michigan on Monday said Canadian geese in the state tested positive for a lethal strain of bird flu, bringing the worst outbreak of the disease in U.S. history to a 21st state.

Three young geese collected in Sterling Heights, Michigan, about 20 miles (30 km) north of Detroit, were infected with the highly pathogenic H5N2 flu strain, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The state is now focusing on preventing the spread of the disease to poultry, Director Keith Creagh said.

Nationwide, more than 46 million chickens and turkeys have been killed by the disease or culled to prevent its spread. Most are in Iowa, the top U.S. egg-producing state, and Minnesota, the nation’s top turkey-producing state.

Michigan is the 21st state to confirm a case of bird flu since late 2014 and the sixth to detect it only in wild or free-ranging bids, according to the department. Fifteen states have found the virus in poultry flocks.

The discovery of the disease in Michigan was “not unexpected given avian influenza has been found in a number of our neighboring states and Ontario,” said Jamie Clover Adams, director of the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Wild birds are thought to be carriers of the virus, which also can be tracked onto poultry farms by people or trucks that come into contact with contaminated feces. It may also be carried into poultry barns by wind blowing in contaminated dirt or dust.”

What’s the takeaway from all of this:

  1. Keep your birds away from wild geese, ducks, and waterfowl and where they tend to congregate.Bird-Flu-02
  2. Don’t bring in new adult or juvenile birds into your flock without a lengthy quarantine. Read more about quarantine best practices.
  3. Do not show your chickens at live poultry fairs/exhibits.  Michigan has already enacted a statewide quarantine of chickens.
  4. Take care to use sensible biosecurity protocol after visiting farms or anywhere there are potentially infected birds or their droppings- meaning, before you visit your own chickens, remove shoes and clothing that was exposed to potential pathogens and wash your hands.
  5. Consider moving your bird feeder away from where your chickens live & roam.  It’s unlikely that wild songbirds are carriers or bird flu, but they can carry other pathogens and parasites.
  6. Learn the symptoms and facts about Avian Influenza and keep an eye on your birds

Unfortunately, this means that my grand plan of having Ferndale’s first chicken coop tour is out the window, even though the risk is minimal.  When in doubt, I side with caution.

To Our Chicken-less Neighbors:

Our backyard flocks aren’t going to make you sick.  In fact, right now we’re the ones being turned to for eggs, since the price of eggs is skyrocketing after countless factory farm birds have had to be culled due to infection.  It appears that factory farms are contracting bird flu much more readily than backyard flocks, despite our hens wandering in the yard where other birds might be located.  We’re trying to keep our food system healthy, and keep our lovely pet chickens healthy too.  Personally, most people I’ve met who keep a small flock are hyper vigilant about protecting them from the bugaboos and weird stuff that can kill a chicken.  We invest in these birds in a major way for a relatively meager ROI-  after all, in Ferndale we’re getting 3 eggs a day MAX, only in peak laying season when the birds are in their prime.

I’m hopeful that this epidemic is halted before it progresses further.  We’ve barely felt the effects here in Michigan, but with eggs & chicken being such a staple protein, I’m hoping that good biosecurity and prevention will keep us from seeing massive shortages and skyrocketing prices for those who purchase eggs/meat.

MYTH: Chickens attract rats!

Chickens do not attract rats.

Let me say it again:  chickens DO NOT attract rats. Chickens will kill and eat mice, voles, and rats.

Here’s what really attracts rats: food & safe places to live.  Kinda like me.  I just want a nice meal and warm house to curl up in, and to not fight about how chickens are drawing rats to our town.  Rats are opportunistic feeders, and will eat anything that doesn’t eat them first.  The reason I can safely say that rats aren’t drawn to the chickens themselves is because chickens WOULD eat them first.  Don’t believe me?  Do a search for ‘chicken eats mouse’ or ‘chicken kills rat’, or watch this video (WARNING: mouse gets eaten) of a chicken snatching up a mouse and running off with it to eat it.  Chickens are mini-dinosaurs, and I firmly believe if they would eat people if they were bigger than us.

Photo credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR A rooster carries a mouse across a farmyard near Fairbury. http://blogs.pjstar.com/eye/2010/06/11/cmon-eat-it-its-justa-mouse-what-are-you-a-chicken/
Photo credit: DAVID ZALAZNIK/JOURNAL STAR A rooster carries a mouse across a farmyard near Fairbury.
http://blogs.pjstar.com/eye/2010/06/11/cmon-eat-it-its-justa-mouse-what-are-you-a-chicken/

Uncovered trash = rats.
Pet food outside = rats.
Fruit dropping on the ground from fruit trees = rats.
Untended compost heaps = rats.
Piles of lumber on the ground = rats.
Bird feeders = rats.
Untended veggie gardens = rats.
Dog poo = rats.

Know why you don’t see chickens on that list? Because rats are opportunists, not fighters. They’re not after chickens- a fully grown hen can mess up an average size wild rodent (chicks are another story, and great care should be taken to protect them). What they would be after, however, is the chicken’s food. That’s why our ordinance spells out that the feed must be contained, so as not to attract vermin. With proper management of stored food/uneaten food, this doesn’t become an issue.  We’ve seen a far greater issue with unsecured dumpsters in the downtown Ferndale area attracting & feeding rats than we’ll ever have to contend with in properly maintained residential areas.

If you are a chicken keeper, or want to become one, you need to know that rodents are a POTENTIAL problem.  You address this by making sure nothing can get into your coop either by tunneling or climbing (rats will do both), and that feed is secured nightly.

Rats can fall from a height of 50 feet without getting hurt. Rats can jump three feet in the air from a flat surface and leap more than four feet horizontally. Rats can chew through lead, cinder block, and aluminum sheeting.  They’re amazingly smart & tenacious, and if they can get into your coop to eat the chicken feed, they will.  Again, this isn’t the fault of the chicken- rats would just as soon come into your house and eat your groceries, if they could find a way in.

If anyone in Ferndale has reason to believe they have rats, I urge you to contact me directly if you need help ridding your property of them.  Many people have suggested releasing hawks in the area to combat the rodent population; the problem with that is that hawks hunt during the day, and rats come out at dusk and are active throughout the night.  Your best course of action is snap traps or electric traps- they’re quick and effective, and don’t create secondary issues of poisoning in the food chain like rat poison does.

2015 Tractor Supply Co. Chick Days are here! Ferndale MI

2015 tractor supply chick days michigan

If you’ve been thinking about having backyard chickens in Ferndale, MI, now is this perfect time to get started.

Every year in mid to late February, Tractor Supply hosts their “Chick Days”, where they receive shipments of chicks from hatcheries to their retail stores.  For your average backyard chicken keeper, these days are a boon:  it makes it so much easier to source chicks and visually inspect them before bringing them home, and allows you to take home a much smaller number than would normally be shipped to you direct from a hatchery.  My preferred TSC is located in White Lake MI, about 45 minutes away from Ferndale.

Advantages to getting your chicks through TSC Chick Days:

  • Chicks can be visually inspected for leg issues, disease, and injuries prior to taking them home.
  • No “dead on arrival” chick issues that come from hatchery shipments; most hatcheries will only ship 30+ chicks at a time and often include a few extra to account for those that die en route.
  • Supplies for chick rearing are located at TSC- you can get everything you need to get started right there.
  • Smaller quantities:  TSC requires that you purchase a minimum of 6 chicks.  While this is problematic here in Ferndale where we can only have 3 chickens, it’s a far better option than sourcing through a mail-order hatchery that only ships a much larger volume (30+) of chicks per box.
  • Chicks are about $4 each.  $12 for your 3 hens in Ferndale (plus additional expenses to set up the coop, get feed, set up brooder box, etc)
  • New chicks are shipped to stores every Monday.  You can call to check what breeds they have every Monday around noon.  White Lake’s TSC just had their first shipment delivered today, 2/23/15.

Disadvantages of getting your chicks through TSC Chick Days:

  • Limited selection of breeds.  If you have your heart set on a certain breed of chicken, you may not be able to get it at TSC.  Right now, at the White Lake TSC they have Red Star & Ameraucanas.
  • If you’re in Ferndale or a city that limits how many chickens you can have, you’ll need to consider how many of the chicks you can actually keep.  You can have 3 hens in your backyard in Ferndale- and NO roosters.  This means you’ll need to rehome 3 birds from your Tractor Supply chick run.  You can do this by coordinating efforts with others who would like to get started raising chickens, or by rehoming through craigslist or by social media postings.  I see a surge in people selling started pullets/chicks around March on Michigan Poultry & Hatching Eggs Forum on Facebook & Metro Detroit Backyard Chickens Forum on Facebook.

Points to keep in mind when getting started raising chicks in Ferndale:

  1. You might end up with a male chick/rooster, even if you select from sexed chicks labeled as female. There is almost always a chance that you’ll wind up with a male chick, and you won’t know until they get older and their behavior changes & they start crowing. You can limit your risk of winding up with a rooster in a few ways:
    • never buy “straight run” chicks, only “pullets”; pullets = sexed as female
    • consider selecting sex link chicks– these are chicks who have a distinct visual difference between
      The yellow-faced chick turned out to be the only male in the 6 chick group. It was the friendliest & biggest as a chick; as it turned into a juvenile, it suddenly became standoffish and bossier to the pullets.
      The yellow-faced chick turned out to be the only male in the 6 chick group. It was the friendliest & biggest as a chick; as it turned into a juvenile, it suddenly became standoffish and bossier to the pullets.

      males & females, making it foolproof to separate males & females.  Examples of high production common sex link birds are the black sex link (Black Star) & red sex link (Red Star).  This is the best option for those who absolutely can’t have a situation where they wind up with a rooster.

    • visually inspect slightly older chicks for characteristics of male chicks:  look for thicker legs, bigger body, and a much more friendly/bold personality
  2. You will need a place to raise the chicks.  TSC provides brooding kits, but they’re really only suitable for new chicks.  You’ll need something bigger before long. This chick brooder box idea board is a great place for inspiration.
  3. You will need a heat lamp, and will need to secure it.  Heat lamps are dangerous and can set wood shavings/sawdust on fire.  Be careful by securing the lamp to something stable or in such a way that it can’t fall into the litter the chicks are using in the brooder box.
  4. You will need chick food.  TSC has this, and it’s very cheap.  You can get medicated or non-medicated feed; as much as I’m a pseudo-hippy that lives an organic lifestyle, I prefer the medicated feed to avoid potential illnesses among the fragile chicks.  You can add in a probiotic to their feed when they are juveniles to ensure that their gut bacteria are all in order.
  5. You will need a coop for them to live in after they get bigger.  In Ferndale, that means you will need to create a permanent structure, and go through the process of getting the building approved.  Read more about the muni code & information on building a chicken coop in Ferndale MI. Chicks grow quickly, and will need a place to transition to- and you will look forward to getting them out of your house.  Why?  Because…

    Chicks must be gradually introduced to older hens.  In this case, we used a 'chicken tractor' to keep the two groups physically separated but able to see each other.
    Chicks must be gradually introduced to older hens. In this case, we used a ‘chicken tractor’ to keep the two groups physically separated but able to see each other.
  6. Chicks create a lot of dust & droppings.  The droppings are stinky, and frequent.  You’ll need to clean the brooder box daily to keep the chicks from stomping around in their own waste.  This gets tiresome, but far worse is the dust that’s created.  This fine dust WILL coat everything in the same room as the brooder box.  It’s not toxic or stinky, but it often comes as a surprise after you’ve had the chicks for a few weeks and begin noticing that all your nice furniture has a fine, pervasive layer of dust on it.
  7. If chicks get ill, you will need to get them medication immediately.  That’s why I prefer having some on-hand, though it needs to be replaced regularly as it loses it’s effectiveness.
  8. Backyard chickens, much like dogs & cats, are a commitment of time, energy, and money.  You will need to make sure they are protected, fed, and healthy- and because they live outside in a world that wants to eat them, that presents its own set of unique challenges.  Plan on having to deal with attacks from local wildlife, and secure your coop like Fort Knox.  Make sure you have a veterinarian lined up for illnesses.  And always arrange for someone to look after them if you’re going away for an extended period of time.
  9. You will need to ensure that you don’t attract rats.  Rats are attracted to food & places to hide:  nothing more, nothing less.  If you build a coop that won’t allow rats to get inside as well as secure all sources of feed, you won’t have rat problems.  If you think you have rats, contact me immediately and I will help you figure out how to get rid of them.  Ferndale has a problem with rats in the downtown area due to improperly secured dumpsters, we as homeowners must not provide ‘greener fields’ for the rats to move to.
  10. People who keep backyard chickens fall in love with them, but not everyone feels the same.  By being a conscientious homeowner & chicken keeper, you’ll keep the peace among your neighbors.  Keep it clean, attractive, and in-compliance with the law.

Must-Have Items for a Backyard Chicken First Aid Kit

chicken first aid kit

I did an interview for Carhartt’s women’s clothing last year, centered mainly on why I wanted backyard chickens in Ferndale as well as the struggle around getting the ordinance changed.  However, as we talked about keeping & raising chickens, I kept coming back to one topic that most people don’t think through often enough:  what do you need to have on hand if your chickens get sick or injured?

I’m a negative, paranoid person who tends to think in terms of worst-case scenarios, and it’s served me well.  In the few years that we’ve had chickens, I’ve run into several times when my negative outlook and adamant stance on keeping a first aid kit around has come in handy. Such misadventures include:

  • When Bossy got a persistent yeast infection
  • Little Girl’s mysteriously cut & bloody comb and wattles
  • Little Girl’s slight case of being egg bound
  • Bossy ripping her entire toenail off
  • Multiple cases of extreme feather picking, to the point of hens being bloodied
  • Multiple cases of broken/cracked beaks
  • Chicks from TSC having a respiratory infection
  • Hens overheating from 100+ degree humid days in summer

There was also the time Partridge got killed by a hawk- obviously there was nothing I could do by the time I found her, but the looming danger has ensured that I’ll always have bandages and a treatment plan in my head in the event that a hawk injures them without killing them.

Every time someone asks me what they should know before getting chickens, I tell them to put together a first aid kit.  Here are my basic recommendations:

  • Wazine: a wormer, for emergency purposes.  Some people recommend worming twice per year, but chickens often develop a natural resistance to these pests- use this only if necessary after a fecal test.
  • Tetracycline Hydrochloride: an general antibiotic for use primarily when you notice respiratory issues or ‘headcold-like’ symptoms
  • Sav-a-chick Electrolytes:  crucial for when weather gets very hot, or when dealing with an ill bird
  • Flexible/vet wrap: get the kind that sticks to itself, for use in holding bandages in place if a bird gets injured
  • Gauze pads: for injuries
  • Wound wash: be sure to get one without pain relievers, as those are toxic to birds
  • Activated charcoal: for symptoms of poisoning
  • Providone Iodine ointment: a substitute for things like neosporin, for injuries–great antibacterial ointment
  • Blu-Kote: germicidal fungicidal wound dressing.  Crucial for a chicken kit- when chickens see red or blood associated with an injury, they will peck at it, and can turn cannibalistic if they’re not stopped.  BluKote turns the wound area dark blue-purple, which immediately stops the other hens from picking at an injury.
  • Rubbing alcohol: sterlizing
  • Hydrogen peroxide: wound cleaning/debriding
  • Styptic powder with no pain relievers: for staunching blood flow, but be sure it does not have pain relievers in there, as most that are used with dogs do
  • NuStock: ointment used for burns and skin disorders, also can help prevent feather picking- just be aware that it stinks!
  • Medical scissors: for cutting dressings and feathers around a wound site
  • Epsom salts: for soaking when the hen is egg bound or needs a site cleaned
  • Superglue: for repairing a broken beak (it does happen)
  • Tweezers: for pulling splinters
  • Nutrient drench: for sick hens to revitalize and regain energy
  • Probiotics: for use after antibiotics
  • Gloves:  for when things get messy
  • Book: The Chicken Health Handbook by Gail Damerow, contains tons of information on disease, illness, and malnutrition including symptoms and treatment

The Curious Case of Little Girl

20140718_182607Little Girl is my problem hen, and has been for quite some time.  She’s a pathetic layer, she’s absolutely vicious to the other chickens when they try to roost near her, and she’s the annual winter feather picker that ruins the other two hens feathers every year.  She’s not gentle with people, she’s gone broody for months in the past, she doesn’t have a sweet voice like Bossy, and the few eggs she lays are prone to being malformed, yolkless, and sometimes shell-less.

She’s also the one who laid the infamous creepy ‘egg’, which was not an egg, rather, my chicken laid a yolk in a bloody membrane.  You can see how that’s possible by looking at The Chicken Chicks’s excellent picture of a chickens reproductive system, which show the ovi and the vascular membrane that contains them.  Little Girl was a poor layer before this event, and a poor layer after- but, at least she was still laying, even if sporadically.

This year, however, we’ve seriously only gotten a handful of eggs from her.  In fact, I’d venture to say she laid more eggs while she was indoors being isolated from the other hens (to save them further feather-picking damage during our long winter) than she has in the spring/summer altogether.  I haven’t seen an egg from her in months.

I’ve asked other chicken keepers if they’ve had a hen who lays yolkless eggs as much as Little Girl does; nobody that I encounter has had a chicken lay yolkless eggs as much as her.  I’ve asked the backyard chicken community on Reddit about her, and received no new information.  I’ve looked on chicken keeping sites and reviewed every ‘weird egg’ analysis I can find to see if anyone has any insight on her consistently yolkless eggs- I’ve turned up nothing except people warning me to get ready for her to die any day now from egg yolk peritonitis or some other awful internal issue.

strange chicken eggs
Normal eggs from Bossy and Dumptruck on top; Little Girl’s eggs below.

Yolkless eggs, also known as “dwarf”, “wind”, “witch”, “cock”, or “fart” eggs, are often attributed to a new layer or a hen at the end of her laying life.  If Little Girl was younger or older, I wouldn’t be alarmed.  That’s why I’ve dismissed it for some time- as a younger hen, I assumed she was just working out the kinks in her egg laying cycle.  Since she also had the fun (read: not) habit of going broody for at least a solid month in the summer, any no-yolk eggs after were also chalked up to getting back on track with the laying cycle.  Eventually, she’d lay a few eggs with a yolk… until this year.  The last ‘normal’ egg from her was at the tail end of winter- everything from there on out has been yolkless, and infrequent.  Little Girl should be cranking eggs out like the other two hens at this point in her life, and it’s baffling that she’s not.  If you check out the picture above, you’ll notice she’s got an interesting “body check” mark that occurs on most of the slightly bigger eggs- it looks like someone cut the top of the egg off and glued it back on like a cap.

All summer she’s eaten normally, doing all her usual chickeny things, though she skipped being broody this year.  Just no eggs, except a few shell-less ones that seemed to ‘sneak up’ on her and slip out while she was in the yard or on the roost.  Every day I’ve expected to come outside and find her dead or ill due to internal laying or some other chicken malady. Every day she’s come thundering over looking for treats, seemingly healthy as can be.

Except today.  Today, LG was not feeling it.  She’s listless, withdrawn, pale.  All the bad signs that make me take immediate notice.  Since it’s closing in on fall, this could be the start of a molt- Bossy is just finishing hers (she started extremely early this year), so the timing doesn’t seem too off.  But, coupled with her lifetime of weird eggs and a full summer of not laying, I’m preparing myself for the worst.  I just hope I’m wrong, like I’ve been for the past 2 years now.

Update:  Little Girl died 6/21/15.  In above post, she was entering a molt.  She enjoyed another winter indoors to prevent her from ripping out the feathers of the other chickens (as much as we could), she laid a few more yolkless eggs, and passed in the early hours of 6/21.

Garden City, MI: Man sentenced to jail time on the CRIMINAL charge of keeping chickens!

garden city mi man found guilty on criminal charge of keeping backyard chickens

Guys, you really can’t make this sort of stuff up.  Randy Zeilinger, a Garden City MI resident, has been found guilty on the CRIMINAL charge of keeping chickens.garden city mi man found guilty on criminal charge of keeping backyard chickens

Think about that for a minute.  A criminal charge follows you for your entire life.  A criminal charge must be reported on job applications. A criminal conviction is reported to state and federal agencies.

The sentence is:

  • 30 days in jail
  • 6 months of reporting to probation
  • $905 in fines
  • Pay for the court appointed attorney
  • Comply with all city ordinances

But the honorable Judge Hammer was “nice” and suspended the jail time. However, if Randy fails on any of the above details he will be thrown in jail. That was clearly stated.

A few days after conviction, Randy began receiving new ordinance violations in the mail. These include a violation for keeping a wild skunk, a vandalized porch and peeling paint on his garage. The Garden City Ordinance Officer has indicated that he will be visiting Randy often and writing violations for anything that he can. Randy will likely face another year of bi-monthly court appearances.

 Synopsis of Randy’s story (full story here):

From Randy: ‘I purchased my home in 2000. I started moving in around March of the same year. I moved my bee hives at the same time and was immediately confronted by a neighbor who called the police.  The attending officer said that bees were OK if I kept them in my own yard. In hind sight, I should have noted the complaint and resulting dialog. However, I thought that I was within my rights based on the Michigan state law, often referred to as the “Right to Farm Act”.  http://legislature.mi.gov/documents/mcl/pdf/mcl-Act-93-of-1981.pdf  In fact, I was (am) covered by this law. Over the next ten years or so, this same neighbor lodged numerous complaints against me. City officials recognized that these complaints were baseless in nature and merely a case of “everyone has one of THOSE neighbors”. ‘

*A note on the Michigan Right to Farm Act: it supersedes local city/town ordinances.  While I (Laura) opted to work with my city to have an ordinance included in our muni code allowing for chickens, technically I didn’t need to.  Taken from MRTFA : (6) Beginning June 1, 2000, except as otherwise provided in this section, it is the express legislative intent that this act preempt any local ordinance, regulation, or resolution that purports to extend or revise in any manner the provisions of this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a local unit of government shall not enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that conflicts in any manner with this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act. This section affirms your Michigan right to continuation business farming operating within generally accepted agricultural and management practices (GAAMPS) guidelines and supersedes any city laws that may forbid said farming. For your reference, Shelby Township v. Papesh is a similar case and may assist in your legal determinations.

Here’s where things start falling apart for Randy:

  • In 2009 he acquires  some chickens and ducks. After a year of keeping chickens and ducks, he rehomed the ducks after a neighbor complained to him about them.
  • In 2012, the same neighbor that complained about the ducks complained to Randy about the chickens. This neighbor posits that “he never asked her permission to have them (the chickens)”.
  • The neighbor who complained to Randy about his chickens also complained to him about: his koi and frog pond & a tree growing in his front yard.  This neighbor called the city and demanded that they cut down Randy’s tree, which the city refused to do (thankfully).
  • The complaining neighbor, now incensed, files a legal complaint about Randy’s chickens.  The Garden City ordinance officer cites Randy with keeping chickens, despite not seeing any signs of chickens on Randy’s property. The ordinance officer visited Randy’s farm on March 21, 2012.  Several weeks later, Randy received a post card from 21st District Court to appear for a zoning violation dated March 23, 2012.

The ordinance violation was written against a 50 year-old ordinance.

     (A)     No person shall keep or house any animals or fowl within the city except dogs, cats, canaries, or animals commonly classified as pets, customarily kept or housed inside dwellings as household pets.

     (B)     No person shall sell, or offer for sale, barter, or give away baby chicks, rabbits, ducklings, or other fowl as pets or novelties, whether or not dyed, colored, or otherwise artificially treated. This division shall not be construed to prohibit the display or sale of natural chicks or ducklings in proper brooder facilities by hatcheries or stores engaged in the business of selling the same to be raised for commercial purposes.

(Ord. 11-006, passed 4-25-11)

Now, here’s where things get surreal.

  • Mid-April, Randy appears in court before the Honorable Judge Richard L, Hammer, Jr. of the 21st. District Court.  The judge sent Randy back to meet with the city prosecutor, Timothy L. Cronin (P26417).
  • During this meeting, Mr. Cronin said that if Randy wanted a farm then he should move out of the city. When Randy replied that he was unable to move, he said that chickens were not allowed in the city and if Randy pursued the case that he would “make an example” of him. He went on to say that the mayor did not want farm animals in the city and that he took direction from the mayor. He further indicated that Randy was not welcome in this city and he would be foolish to continue the case. At no time did he indicate that a compromise could be reached.
  • Randy appears at city council meetings while his court dates are repeatedly postponed, speaking in favor of allowing backyard chickens in Garden City.  After one meeting, reporter Sue Buck runs a story in the June 24 2012 issue of the Garden City Observer on Randy and 2 others who spoke positively about keeping backyard chickens.  The other 2 individuals cited in the paper received chicken keeping code violation notices in the mail immediately after.
  • Randy’s complaining neighbor vandalizes his property and calls the city to lodge a complaint about it being in disarray.
  • An anonymous call is made complaining about a rooster crowing.  Randy has no rooster.
  • Randy’s complaining neighbor drives to Westland to visit his 80 year old mother, demanding that she force her son to do what they ask (remove chickens, cut down tree, etc).  The woman is fearful and traumatized.
  • By the end of July 2012, the police have been out to Randy’s house a half a dozen times. Each time was a response to an anonymous complaint called in. No charges were leveled.
  • In August 2012, police respond to a complaint about a skunk found in the complaining neighbors yard. Three police officers in two cars responded to the call. They insisted that Randy do something about the skunk in the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor had mentioned that the skunk had come from Randy and that he had sent it to spray them. The armed police officers force Randy from his house to go retrieve a wild skunk- which turned out to be a baby skunk with barely open eyes.  Randy retrieves the skunk from under the neighbors car, receives a ticket for having an unlicensed animal, and is left with the task of getting the baby skunk to a wildlife rehabilitator.

    armed police force citizen to retrieve skunk after neighbor complained that he had sent it to spray them "attack skunk"
    Skunk cops are on patrol!

In fall 2012 Randy finally gets closer to a court date, is allowed a court appointed attorney. Initially, the court told the defending attorney that the case was about the skunk but in reality, the case was about keeping chickens and the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

  • Randy’s appointed attorney, James M. Jernigan (P-57035) took the case even though he was somewhat skeptical at first. Randy explained the RTFA and how it applied to his case. Randy explained the GAAMPs, the history of the law and cited other cases that had been tried and eventually reached the Michigan Court of Appeals.
  • Randy’s case is repeatedly delayed due in part to another chicken keeper case being tried in the 21st District Court. That case was actually moved to the city of Wayne and presided by city of Wayne Judge Laura R. Mack, because Judge Hammer was recused.  That case is City of Garden City v. Pete Santeiu (Case No, 12 GC 1547 OM).  That case was dismissed by Judge Mack. Signed and dated: January 7, 2013.
  • In February 2013, the Garden City prosecution amended Randy’s case to be a criminal complaint rather than the original animal ordinance violation.
  • Randy’s jury trial is set for April 11 & 12th 2013.
  • Several points of law were disallowed based on the fact that this was a criminal charge and not merely a zoning violation. Case law, Court of Appeals decisions and opinions were discounted. The ruling of Judge Mack (representing the same court, and for the same sort of case) was disallowed.
  • Several individuals came to testify for Randy’s defense, stating he was a good neighbor and that the chickens were not a nuisance in any way.
  • Prosecution presented documents (not entered into evidence) that challenged Randy’s claim of GAAMP compliance. In a nutshell, it was argued that by Randy exceeding the GAAMP protocols, he was not “following” the GAAMPs. Thus if he wasn’t following GAAMPs then he was not compliant and not protected by MRTFA.

This case is disturbing on so many levels.  If you’d like to read about it in Randy’s own words, click here.

I urge you all to share this far and wide- it’s gotten NO media attention here in Michigan, and likely won’t without a grassroots effort.  Also, if you’d like to share your thoughts on this situation, please direct them to the Garden City mayor and councilmembers, as well as the senatorial representatives.  Follow us on Facebook for updates on Randy’s story as it continues to unfold.

UPDATES:

Randy was interviewed on Fox 2 Detroit.  His neighbor chimed in as well, and showed just the sort of behavior you’d never want to see from a neighbor, even if you didn’t have chickens.

First time chicken coop builders, start here!

There’s a lot to consider in building your first chicken coop, and this infographic walks you through some major points. At the very end, I’ll discuss some of my major points for the best possible coop design.

Click To Enlarge


checklist-small

These Chicken Coop Plan Must Haves Brought To

You By

ChickenCheckLists.com

There are some things I did right with my coop, and others I’d change if I did it all over again.

Things I did right on my coop:
1.) Lots of ventilation: in the summer when it’s hot, I have two doors on the front of the coop that can latch open, providing full coop ventilation. I also have a back window and roof vents with directional flaps to keep wind out of direct it in.
2.) Predator proof: my design was inspired by paranoia that something would get in and kill my chickens. I buried hardware cloth 2 ft underground and out, covered the edges of the run with heavy pavers to prevent digging, and covered the top of the run to protect from hawks.
3.) Covered run: I used polycarbonate sheeting to cover the run, which allows the chickens to run around in the rain without getting wet. Also, prevents mud, which combined with chicken poo produces a nasty, smelly, potentially dangerous mix.
4.) Nest box per bird: some people say it isn’t necessary, but I’ve seen all 3 hens pack into a box at the same time. I wouldn’t want them to have to queue up in line and wait.
5.) Easy to clean: this is the biggest one for me. I designed this so I wouldn’t have to stoop to clean, or climb inside, or shovel it out. Instead, I’m able to use a bucket and brush to sweep all the litter out, and I’ve used rubber liners for the floor that I can remove and hose down. All of this makes cleaning super quick and easy.

Things I’d change:
1.) Bigger: I’d make the run much, much bigger. Though chickens can take confinement very well, and they’ve got more space than some, I know they’d enjoy the extra room to roam.
2.) Elevation: I picked a low spot in my garden to place the coop, mainly because it was out of the way. Unfortunately, because it’s at a low spot, the run gets wet when snow melts in spring.
3.) Bad nesting box door: the nesting box door is heavy, has no way to stay up unless you’re holding it, and it collects water due to the design. That water then drains ever so slowly into the coop. I think this is a critical flaw and we’ll be changing it this year.

If you haven’t already, follow us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/FerndaleBackyardChickens

Plants that are TOXIC to chickens

plants toxic to chickens

Spring has sprung, and the chickens are getting much more outside time.  With that in mind, while doing spring yard cleanup, it’s smart to pay extra attention to things that could potentially damage your foraging hens.  The winter snow covers so much, and invariably I find things like screws, nails, candy wrappers, Styrofoam pieces & cigarette butts that somehow find their way into my yard.  If I don’t clean those things up, the chickens WILL find them- and if they find them, they’ll try to eat them.  They’re not always the smartest of birds.

Additionally, spring is a good time to review what sort of plants you have growing in and around your yard, to make sure you’re not exposing your chickeny charges to something dangerous.  Below, I’ve pasted a list of toxic plants from chickenkeepingsecrets.com:

ARUM LILY ELEPHANT EAR (TARO) MOONSEED
AMARYLLIS ENGLISH IVY MORNING GLORY
ARALIA ERGOT MTN. LAUREL
ARROWHEAD VINE EUCALYPTUS (DRIED, DYED OR TREATED IN FLORAL ARRANGEMENTS) MUSHROOMS, AMANITA
AUTUMN CROCUS EUONYMUS (SPINDLE TREE) MYRTLE
AUSTRALIAN FLAMETREE EUPHORBIA CACTUS NARCISSUS
AUSTRALIAN UMBRELLA TREE FALSE HELLEBORE NETTLES
AVOCADO FLAME TREE NIGHTSHADES: (DEADLY, BLACK, GARDEN, WOODY, BITTERSWEET,
AZALEA FELT PLANT (MATERNITY, AIR & PANDA PLANTS) EGGPLANT, JERUSALEM CHERRY)
BANEBERRY FIG (WEEPING) OAK
BEANS: (CASTOR, HORSE, FAVA, BROAD, GLORY, SCARLET RUNNER, FIRE THORN OLEANDER
MESCAL, NAVY, PREGATORY) FLAMINGO FLOWER OXALIS
BIRD OF PARADISE FOUR O’CLOCK PARSLEY
BISHOP’S WEED FOXGLOVE PEACE LILY
BLACK LAUREL GLOTTIDIUM PERIWINKLE
BLACK LOCUST GOLDEN CHAIN PHILODENDRONS: (SPLIT LEAF, SWISS CHEESE, HEART-LEAF)
BLEEDING HEART OR DUTCHMAN’S BREECHES GRASS: (JOHNSON, SORGHUM, SUDAN & BROOM CORN) PIGWEED
BLOODROOT GROUND CHERRY POINCIANA
BLUEBONNET HEATHS: (KALMIA, LEUCOTHO, PEIRES, RHODODENDRON, MTN. LAUREL, POINSETTIA
BLUEGREEN ALGAE BLACK LAUREL, ANDROMEDA & AZALEA) POISON IVY
BOXWOOD HELIOTROPE POISON HEMLOCK
BRACKEN FERN HEMLOCK: (POISON & WATER) POISON OAK: (WESTERN & EASTERN)
BUCKTHORN HENBANE POKEWEED
BULB FLOWERS: (AMARYLLIS, DAFFODIL, NARCISSUS, HYACINTH & IRIS) HOLLY POTATO SHOOTS
BURDOCK HONEYSUCKLE POTHOS
BUTTERCUP HORSE CHESTNUT PRIVET
CACAO HORSE TAIL PYRACANTHA
CAMEL BUSH HOYA RAIN TREE
CASTOR BEAN HYACINTH RANUNCULUS, BUTTERCUP
CALADIUM HYDRANGEA RAPE
CANA LILY IRIS IVY: (ENGLISH & OTHERS) RATTLEBOX, CROTALARIA
CARDINAL FLOWER JACK-IN-THE-PULPIT RED MAPLE
CHALICE (TRUMPET VINE) JASMINE (JESSAMINE) RED SAGE (LANTANA)
CHERRY TREE JERUSALEM CHERRY RHUBARB LEAVES
CHINA BERRY TREE JIMSONWEED RHODODENDRONS
CHRISTMAS CANDLE JUNIPER ROSARY PEA SEEDS
CLEMATIS (VIRGINIA BOWER) KY. COFFEE TREE SAND BOX TREE
CLIVIA LANTANA (RED SAGE) SKUNK CABBAGE
COCKLEBUR LARKSPUR SORREL (DOCK)
COFFEE (SENNA) LILY OF THE VALLEY SNOW DROP
COFFEE BEAN (RATTLEBUSH, RATTLE BOX & COFFEEWEED) LILY, ARUM SPURGES: (PENCIL TREE, SNOW-ON-MTN, CANDELABRA, CROWN OF THORNS)
CORAL PLANT LOBELIA STAR OF BETHLEHEM
CORIANDER LOCOWEED (MILK VETCH) SWEET PEA
CORNCOCKLE LOCUSTS, BLACK / HONEY SWISS CHEESE PLANT (MONSTERA)
COYOTILLO LORDS & LADIES (CUCKOOPINT) TANSY RAGWORT
COWSLIP LUPINE TOBACCO
CUTLEAF PHILODENDRON MALANGA UMBRELLA PLANT
DAFFODIL MARIJUANA (HEMP) VETCH: HAIRY/COMMON
DAPHNE MAYAPPLE (MANDRAKE) VIRGINIA CREEPER
DATURA STRAMONIUM (ANGEL’S TRUMPET) MEXICAN BREADFRUIT WATTLE
DEATH CAMUS MEXICAN POPPY WEEPING FIG
DELPHINIUM MILKWEED, COTTON BUSH WHITE CEDAR, CHINA BERRY
DEVIL’S IVY MISTLETOE WISTERIA
DIEFFENBACHIA (DUMB CANE) MOCK ORANGE YEWS
ELDERBERRY MONKSHOOD YELLOW JASMIN

This is in no ways definitive, and there are other lists floating around out there.  For instance, this list on poultryhelp.com cites several plants that aren’t on the list above, such as lamb’s quarters, a common backyard weed in Michigan. I’ve found nothing that indicates lamb’s quarters are toxic for chickens- in fact, my chickens have eaten them since last year, and I regularly eat them in salads and spinach pie.  Likewise, that list also cites alfalfa, which many chicken keepers give directly to their hens.  Do your homework with plants you may have around, watch what your chickens go after, and be cautious.  For instance, from the above list I have quite a few toxic plants, like daffodils, burdock, wisteria, and lily of the valley.  I noticed a few days ago that my daffodils are starting to poke through the ground, and one curious hen grabbed a bit of green in her beak.  Before I could chase her off, she let go and walked away- on some of the more toxic plants, they’ll leave them alone of their own accord.  Does that mean I trust the chickens to 100% never eat anything dangerous, or that I could leave them in their chicken tractor parked over a bed of daffodils. Nope.  It’s better to be safe than sorry, and to limit their access to poisonous plants in ways that make sense.  Most of the things naturally growing in your yard will be fine for your chickens to peck and eat- keep them away from tomato plants & potato plants (nightshades), ornamental plants, and seedpods (especially wisteria).

plants toxic to chickens
My hens as juveniles late last spring. Notice the broad leaf plant near the bottom? That’s lamb’s quarters, which is “supposedly” toxic, but has been consumed repeatedly by my hens.

Feather Pickin’ Chicken, Pt2

P1050358

The Jerk is at it again.  She’s even pecking me, hard, on the leg while I’m out in the run cleaning.

I’ve put cat toys out there; cabbages; low-energy treats like greens, squash, etc; a tennis ball; as well as letting them out more often, even though the Jerk doesn’t WANT to go out, because her feet get too cold.  None of that was stopping her from picking at BB and Dumptruck.

So, the Jerk is now isolated.  On the advice of other chicken owners, I’ve removed her from the flock and placed her in a dog crate in the basement- this’ll give the other two a little time to heal, and rearrange the pecking order a bit.  Hopefully by shaking things up I’ll get her to stop long enough to get them through winter; in spring, they’ll have much more outside time and be less likely to have this issue.

The heroes of the day are Ben, for helping me set up the isolation pen and restraining the ladies with injuries so that I could properly coat them with Blu-Kote; the other hero is Blu-Kote, which is amazing in it’s ability to mask the blood to stop the picking, as well as being antiseptic.

The full gallery of injuries can be viewed here on imgur- the picture file sizes were way too big for my poor blog to handle.

Have you experienced this?  What did you do to fix the problem? I’d love to add to my list of suggestions.

List of advice I’ve been given:

-picked up the Jerk and hold her while the others run around and have a good time, to shake up the pecking order a bit

-check their protein level in the food. When they don’t get adequate protein, they’ll eat feathers (saw this during their molt). This is definitely not a nutritional deficiency, since she wasn’t even eating the feathers- she was pulling them out and spitting them onto the ground.

-give them all low-calorie veggie treats to keep them occupied but not give them extra energy

-Let them free range (not possible in the city, and their outside time is limited due to the extremely cold weather anyway

-Provide entertainment. I’ve used an automatic laser pointer cat toy, tennis balls, a treat dispenser, dangling toys, a hanging cabbage, etc.  No change in behavior.

-isolate the Jerk to rearrange the pecking order and let the others heal.

400 fans!

400 fans!

We just passed 400 fans on the Ferndale Backyard Chickens facebook fan page!  What a great thing to come in and see after cleaning out chicken poo from the coop run.

Feather Pickin’ Chicken

featherpickinchicken

A few days ago I noticed that BB and Dumptruck were looking… raggedy.  Specifically, their “bustles” (the area right above their tail feathers) looked like the feathers were thinning.  Yesterday I noticed that the colored portion of the feather was almost completely GONE in some spots on those two- meanwhile, Little Girl looked just fine.  What gives?

Seems we have a feather picker in our midst.  Ben caught LG snapping off feathers from BB, and spitting them out on the ground.  What a jerk chicken.

picked4

pickedpicked2 picked3

It’s likely boredom, and a little aggression thrown into the mix.  I saw her do it today- Dumptruck was taking a break from being out on the snow, resting on the stone step in the doorway of the run.  Little Girl stood above her, giving her the stink eye, and grabbing little strands of feather and pulling.  I pushed LG away several times, and finally just picked her up- it really came off like she was harassing Dumptruck to get out of her way/off her sunny spot.  Dumptruck doesn’t even seem to notice her doing it.  Same goes with BB: Ben noticed she was getting picked by LG, and went out there to stop it. BB didn’t seem any worse for the wear, like she didn’t even notice LG had been snapping off part of her feathers.  You can see in the pictures above that BB has a patch of orange missing, where it’s down to the fluff.  Likewise, Dumptruck’s bustle is sparse, but seems more uniform.

aggression

The culprit is none to happy about being picked up and carried around when I’m out there.  Of course, she also doesn’t like walking on the snow, being in the cold wind, not being able to run around outside of the coop, etc.  I feel like she’s getting a little stir crazy, and all-around grouchy.  I feel her pain.

So, I’ve got some options:

-give them things to peck at (I’ve given them cabbage, but squash and pumpkin are also good choices to keep them busy)

-give them distractions (I hung some cat toys and left a tennis ball inside- the ball seems to be the winner)

-reduce their high calorie treats (suggested by Terry from Hencam.com)

-shake up the pecking order (trying to do this by carrying the aggressor around)

-isolate the aggressor

Isolation is the worst case scenario, and will happen if this keeps going on.  Of course, because it’s winter I’ll have to take into account that the 3 need to huddle together to stay warm; I’m thinking I might be able to isolate LG during the day, and bring her back out before sunset so they can all sleep together.  I’m a little nervous about this possible action only because LG might get used to the warmth of the house and have a hard time adjusting when she goes back outside.

Always an adventure with these birds.  At least nobody has drawn blood, yet.

It’s cold out there!

It's cold out there!

One of the best things you can invest in when getting backyard chickens: a remote temperature reader. This way, you can obsess over the slightest temperature variations and neurotically check on your ladies to make sure they’re not chickensicles. (They’re not- in fact, they’re fine down to around 0degrees without any heat source, so long as they’re dry and away from drafts.)

The Great Molt is finally over!

The Great Molt is finally over!

It’s relatively balmy out today, so it was a great morning to let the chickens run around. They’re FINALLY done with their molt and are turning regal again- I’m always amazed by how their feather catch the light just right.

I know it sounds ridiculous, but there’s something about their feathers that make them look like a painting to me, in nearly every photo.

The telltale signs of a great dust bath.

The telltale signs of a great dust bath.

I let the ladies out of the run to wander in the snow, when one of them stopped right by the doorway and shook like a dog. The dark spot is all the dirt she was carrying around with her after her in-coop dust bath.

GRAPHIC: abnormal finding in the coop

Alright, a gross mystery for you all.

Ben went out to check on the ladies this morning, and came back in telling me there was weird red egg inside the coop.  He described it as looking like “a cherry tomato”.  Scary.  I went to investigate.

There was a red lump, surrounded by wet bedding.  Above, a shell-less egg with a TON of watery poo nearby.  Keep in mind- I clean this coop every day, so this wasn’t a buildup of poo from a few days or anything.

I can only assume one of my ladies had a VERY bad morning.

I examined the mass at length: it felt like it contained liquid (it did), had an attached ‘cord’ with what appeared to be ova at the end, a dark spot inside that, after dissection, turned out to be extra tissue inside the sac, and the ‘liquid’ inside appeared to be egg yolk.

So… what is this thing?  Did my hen lay an egg yolk… maybe dragging other egg yolks with it?  Is it a cyst?  Whatever it is, the ladies all seemed healthy and happy  and were running around scratching like normal, so I’ve got to assume that it’s not, ya know, vital to their function.

Downers Grove city council too scared to put chicken coop question on ballot

if it's in my hands, it might be food, right?
if it’s in my hands, it might be food, right?

Sounds awfully familiar to the situation we were in in Ferndale. Here’s hoping they examine how other cities have approached the issue and take another look at changing their ordinance.
http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2013-01-09/news/ct-tl-downers-grove-chicken-referendum.-20130109_1_commissioner-becky-rheintgen-fowl-ordinance-chickens

The Downers Grove village council overwhelmingly rejected a measure Tuesday that would have let voters decide whether more homes in town should be allowed to keep backyard chicken coops.

Commissioner William Waldack offered two advisory questions, which were rejected by members of the Village Council. The deadline for adding a referendum to the April 9 ballot is Jan. 22.

Waldack argued that any change to the regulations for raising fowl on residentialproperty is a quality of life issue in which voters should have a say. Waldack previously cited smell, health hazards, attraction of predators and cost of enforcement as potential issues to be considered.

“It has the possibility of impacting just about every life in Downers Grove,” Waldack said during Tuesday’s council meeting. “Not that we’re going to have an influx or invasion of chickens, but if your neighbor goes out and gets a coop and starts raising chickens, suddenly that becomes a very local and personal issue.”

Commissioner Becky Rheintgen, who was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, first introduced the idea of expanding the village’s fowl ordinance in December, citing an increased demand for and focus upon sustainable living and local food sourcing. Rheintgen proposed decreasing setback requirements, increasing the maximum number of fowl allowed, banning roosters and requiring a license or permit to keep chickens.

Currently, the 25-year-old ordinance allows residents on lots at least 110 feet wide and deep to raise no more than 16 domesticated fowl within specific age ranges on their property. Rheintgen asserted that the property requirements are too restrictive, and fewer than 20 percent of residential lots fall into those parameters.

Waldack suggested two questions asking residents whether local laws should allow for an expansion of the number of homes permitted to keep chickens.

But most of the members said a referendum would be ineffective. Mayor Martin T. Tully said the language offered was too vague.

“We, as a council, don’t even have the information before us to intelligently discuss this issue, much less expect the public to have to vote on it,” Tully said. “What would be thevehicle be by which the residents and voters would get information necessary to responsibly and intelligently cast a vote on this topic? The results of that process wouldn’t provide me with any meaningful information in how to exercise my responsibility as an elected official.”

Commissioner Marilyn Schnell said putting the issue to voters, in this case, would be a “disservice to the residents.”

“We’re elected to try to gather all the information possible, both pro and con, listen to our residents and make a decision that would be in the best interest of our entire community,” Schnell said.

The council has a standing committee scheduled for Jan. 22 devoted to discussing the ordinance. The meeting is open to the public. Waldack countered that he doubted residents would turn out in big numbers for a discussion.

“We’ve had many important meetings. Very often very few people show up,” Waldack said. “If this were put on as a referendum, people will be looking at it, they will get educatedand they will be able to make an educated decision. I think it would actually enhance resident knowledge of the situation.”

cdrhodes@tribune.com

Twitter @rhodes_dawn

1 year down, many more to go!

2ndyearcooprenewal
First and second year coop licenses/inspection approvals

Second year coop license! Coop license renewal went well, and the hens behaved themselves in front of the city inspector.

While the inspector was out, we showed him our water heater (a cookie tin with a light bulb in it), explained why we have plastic wrapped around the run (wind break during cold, snowy spells), and explained why the hens weren’t laying (not enough daylight hours).

While he was out, he mentioned that we were the first coop to fill out renewal papers and be inspected. In case any Ferndalians read this, just a reminder:  your coop license expires Dec 31 every year, no matter when you got approved.  The renewal process is very straight forward: fill out your packet of information just as you did when you originally registered, minus the coop drawings, and take it back to the city clerks office with your check for $35.  Bingo, bammo, done deal.  You can schedule your inspection at that time as well, which is what I did- I wanted it done and over with as soon as possible.

The inspector mentioned there are a few other homes in Ferndale now with registered coops… I’m really interested in contacting the other registered coop owners to see if they’d be interested in planning a coop tour in spring.  Something informational, with handouts on chicken keeping at every coop- might be a nice way to get more people registered and on board with it.

I also started a Facebook page, just to make it easier to get the word out about Ferndale chicken issues: http://www.facebook.com/FerndaleBackyardChickens

as well as a google+ page to help us gain some more visibility:

https://plus.google.com/b/103161687709305818453/103161687709305818453/posts

Here’s hoping 2013 will be a great year!

Snow Chickens

The ladies have been completely terrified of the snow, until recently.  I had to show them that it wasn’t dangerous by opening their door and calling them out with some scratch treat, but the other two followed Big Bossy out as she came toward me.

Chickens of the Mist

misting chickens
Chickens of the Mist, or: How I Learned to Make an Evaporative Cooler on a Hot June Day

In Ferndale/Detroit, yesterday and today are hitting temperatures in the high 90’s with around 70% humidity.  The heat is oppressive, to say the least.  I’ve been staying indoors in the cool air conditioned climate as much as possible, but the chickens don’t have that luxury.  The temperature sensor in the coop read a whopping 100 degrees at noon yesterday, and the ladies were hanging out below it, panting hard and keeping their wings away from their bodies.  Buff orpingtons like these were bred in England, and are cold hardy- which means they’re absolutely not designed for this sort of stifling weather.  Luckily, this should be the last day like this for a while, but if we continue to encounter temps like this, I have a plan.

chicken mister setup
I’ve been filling large bottles with water and freezing them solid; we placed one in front of the box fan and angled my hose set to “mist” so that the water hits the frozen jug and the cooled vapor gets blown at the coop run.

We made a simple evaporative cooler for the girls that seems to have helped in a major way.  I’ve been filling large bottles and jugs with water and freezing them solid- it makes your freezer run more efficiently to have them in there, and I’ve got them on hand to place in the coop run for the chickens to hang out nearby (not that they do, but even having it in the vicinity seems to help).  To make it, we place a box fan a short distance away from the run, placed the frozen jug in front of it, and angled my hose set to ‘mist’ so that the water hits the frozen jug and gets blown toward the run.  The cooled vapor travels into the shadey area under the coop, where the chickens like to hang out- I can FEEL that it’s cooler down there than it is in the surrounding yard.

chicken mist setup
another shot showing the mist created by the evaporative cooler

Best of all, the chickens don’t seem to notice it too much, and just hang out under the coop as they usually do.  Yesterday, during intial setup, we discovered that they would NOT hang out in the shade under the coop with the fan directly against the runs fencing- it was just too new and scarey for them, and despite the heat they were standing in direct sunlight away from the fan.  Once we moved it away and behind some plant life, they went right back into the shade.   Care also needs to be taken to not spray too much water into the area you want them to hang out in- they’ll avoid having the water hit them.

In addition to the evaportive cooler, I added some “Sav-a-chick” to a giant metal waterer and placed it down in the run (rather than inside the coop itself).  It’s basically gatorade for chickens, helping to keep them hydrated while they’re panting and losing water through their heavy breathing (this is primarily how they cool down).  They each drink roughly .5 liters of water in the summer; you want to keep them stocked with water at all times, and keep the water cool (ie. not out in the sun).  Drinking cool water will decrease their core body temperature, and having the “chicken koolaid” mix in there will reduce their need to drink, avoiding any potential “water toxicity” issues (unlikely to happen, but possible).

I also put out a shallow dish of water that they could stomp around in, but they’re avoiding it like the plague.

We’re also being mindful of what they eat right now- greens and cool fruit are a better choice, and care should be taken to avoid cracked corn and corn products, as those will raise their core body temperature (so keep it handy for winter!).

In the event that they show signs of not being able to handle the heat even with these precautions, I’ve got a tent set up in my basement that I’ll move them into.  I’m hopeful that it won’t come to that, since I’m sure the change of scenery would stress them out only slightly less than the extreme heat.

Coverage of Ferndale’s First Legal Coop- Ferndale 115

Source:  http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/05/18/ferndales-first-legal-chicken-coop/

Ferndale’s First (Legal) Chicken Coop

(Crystal A. Proxmire, The Ferndale 115 News, May 15th, 2012 edition)

Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl seem happy.  The six week old Buff Orpingtons strut around their sandy front yard, playing like sister chickens do: nudging, pecking, cuddling, running, rolling around in the sand and darting back up the wooden ramp to their luxury penthouse, aka Ferndale’s first legal chicken coop.

Laura Mikulski was the organizer of the Ferndale backyard chicken movement.  After meeting other suburban families that keep backyard chickens, Mikulski wanted to bring the option to Ferndale.  She researched backyard chickens and lobbied City Council to pass an ordinance allowing them.

After several months of research and consideration, theFerndale City Council approved an ordinance that allows individuals to have a chicken coop on their property as long as they follow certain rules.  Homeowners are limited to three hens. Roosters are not allowed.

The requirements of the ordinance are:

“As structured the ordinance would allow for the raising and keeping of three (3) hen chickens and no roosters. Residents would be required to receive an annual permit which would expire on December 31st of each year. Any applicant receiving a permit is required to schedule an inspection within 30 days of the permit issuance, if violations are noted at the inspection the applicant has 15 additional days to resolve the identified issues. Chickens are required to be kept in the rear yard, structures (coops) must be designed to prevent accessibility to vermin, feed must be secured in enclosed containers and compliance with the Michigan Department of Agriculture Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices for the Care of Farm Animals (GAMPS) must be maintained.”

Mikulski believes in following the law, so she waited until the process was complete. She and boyfriend Ben Wojdyla then made the plans.  With approximately $500 plus many reclaimed items, the chicken family’s new home took about two months to build

The entire coop area is surrounded with wire mesh that is tight enough to keep out rats and other predators.  The coop is topped with polycarbonate sheeting reclaimed from another project.  There is a door so people can enter, but there is also access to tend the chickens from the outside: a lever allows them to open and close the door at the top of the ramp to the chicken’s house, and a long top-opening door lets them access any eggs that may have been laid in the nesting area.  The door has a magnetic top so it will stay open while they harvest the eggs.  To best utilize the space and help provide a layer of shade to the roof of the coop, Mikulski and Wojdyla created a strawberry bed on top.

The doors to the chicks’ house are stained glass cabinet doors, and the siding is made of slats reclaimed from pallets.  Everything is decorated to match the home and garage, an aesthetic fit with the rest of the backyard’s landscaped splendor.

On May 15th the couple had their inspection.  “Basically, the inspection centered around the coop being structurally sound,” Mikulski said in her blog www.ferndalechickens.com.  “He checked the roofing to make sure it was secure, and the fencing and nesting box door hinges.  He asked what we’ll do in the winter, and I told him I’m firmly against heating the coop- the chickens I have will grow to be big girls, and they’ll essentially be wearing down coats. He seemed pleased with that, since there had been an incident several years ago involved a wire shorting out on a coop in Ferndale- my worst fear.

“The permit expires on December 31st every year, so I’ll need to go into the city and schedule another inspection and pay my fee in early December.  I figure I’ll just do it around the same time I renew my car registration.”

Her advice to people who want to build a coop: “Draw the plan first, but be flexible in building. Consider drainage and ventilation- chickens need to be dry. Build everything at a height that is comfortable for you to work in/with. Be mindful of cleaning issues and form a plan that allows you to clean with ease.”

Finding the chickens wasn’t hard, Mikulski just looked on Craigslist.  When she got them back in February she kept them in inside the house until the coop was complete.  “When they’re done growing they’re going to be big birds,” she said, noting that she specifically sought out Buff Orpington chicks because of their mild-manner and their heftiness once grown.

“The ladies won’t lay eggs for a while, and when they start it might take a while before the eggs come out fully developed.  Sometimes they come out without a shell.  Sometimes they’re just tiny.  Sometimes there could be ‘fart eggs,’ which are eggs without a yolk inside.”  Once they girls do mature though, they will likely lay about one egg per day.

“I just love being able to come out here and watch them.  It’s so peaceful.  The littlest things make them so happy,” Mikulski said.  Big Bossy, Little Bossy and Little Girl enjoy eating seed and leafy veggies. They also love rolling around in the sand and dirt.  They even get along well with the family dog Hurley.  “He’s never seemed bothered by them in the least,” Mikulski said.

For much more information on backyard chickens, check out www.ferndalechickens.com.

For official City of Ferndale ordinance information and more, go to www.ferndale-mi.com.

   For stories of how this all came to be, check out:

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/04/20/chicken-coops-in-ferndale/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/05/12/the-chicken-petition/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2011/09/15/council-to-vote-on-chicken-coops

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/07/chicken-coop-ordinance-to-be-considered-by-council-monday/

http://ferndale115.com/nuevo/2012/01/15/new-rules-allow-for-backyard-chickens/